Escape into the world of the early 20th Century English Countryside with Noël Coward’s Easy Virtue, an enchanting romp of manners, moral conduct and forbidden love. Fun from the first scene, playwright Coward writes a taut, clever piece here, that is dazzled up for the big screen with a strong cast and a beautiful setting. British period piece stalwarts Colin Firth and Kristin Scott Thomas shine as the patriarch and matriarch of a dizzy, dysfunctional family, the Whittakers. Mrs. Whittaker tries desperately to keep her family proper, which is a task that seems impossible at times and the entire family spends most of its time trying to live up to the expectations their stern, rigid mother has set for them. Case in point, her son, John, brings home an American widow, Larita, as his new wife and the mother has to find a way to accept this sophisticated yet unrefined woman into her household. Or, better yet, John has to find a way to shield Larita from his mother’s tyrants and constant quibbling about the fact that Larita is less than ready for British country society. Constant banter from mother, son, wife and the whole gaggle of Whittakers provides non-stop entertainment.
Jessica Biel as Larita could be seen as an unconventional choice. But, Biel lives up to the Larita that Coward himself might have envisioned. She is playful and sweet, without being too over-the-top. Her frustration with her mother-in-law’s acceptance of her seems convincing, though Biel’s Larita does not in any way give in to Mr. Whittaker’s demands and streaks of terror. Kristin Scott Thomas shines here as the dominating, over-bearing mother. Out of major filmmaking for a time, Thomas made several recent films in France, though she is best known for her work in The English Patient, for which she was nominated for an Academy Award® for Best Actress. Colin Firth, in my opinion, steals the show here, as the gruff, unruffled, disheveled, recently resurfaced father. His character has a seemingly small role, but it is intricate to the plot and Firth makes it so when Mr. Whittaker is on screen, you cannot notice anything else…which for the nutty, whirlwind behavior of this family is saying something. The soundtrack adds not only to the time period, but to the franticness of the antics…altering lively, modern tunes into 1920s-style rhythms.
All-in-all, a fun, exciting two hours in the English Countryside…with some quirky characters along for the ride.

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Off the top, I would like to state that I’m a huge Edith Wharton fan. I’ve read almost everything by her…including nonfiction and short stories…and love her style. I’m always leery when an “adaptation” comes out of a novel I love. Bonfire of the Vanities is one of favorite books of the latter part of the 20th Century and I’m still reeling from that debacle. So, when I heard that this novel was being adapted for the screen, I immediately got nervous. But, then I heard it was being directed by Martin Scorsese and I knew Wharton’s work would be in capable hands (though I thought there might be one or two added scenes of violence that old Edith didn’t really bank on). But, alas, I needn’t had worry about any blood shed…Scorsese held true to Wharton’s vision and created a modern masterpiece out of a classic masterpiece. Sticking pretty close to the novel, the plot is about love that goes unfulfilled. Newland Archer and May Welland look like they are destined to be a happy married couple. Enter May’s slightly colorful cousin Ellen Olenska…who Newland takes a shine to — and vice versa. Visually, this is by far Scorsese’s most prominent use of color on film. The film looks and feels like a fabulous artist’s salon we can all just step into. And when I read the book, I had a feeling that’s exactly what Wharton wanted us to envision. Which, I think, is the best thing an adaptation can hope for…capturing the author’s true vision. I doubt Tom Wolfe would say the film version of Bonfire of the Vanities has anything to do with his vision!

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