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23 November 2008

Easy Virtue Is Sufficient Temptation

I only went to see Easy Virtue because none of the films on my to-watch list are out in the cinema yet and because the heavens opened with great vehemence this afternoon when I was in the vicinity of Leicester Square. I baulked at paying £12 for a cinema ticket (£12? After paying a fiver (members' price at the Arts cinema in Nowheresville), forking over £12 made even my loose purse strings tremble) given the mixed reviews I had read but actually, I rather liked it.

Based on the Noel Coward play of the same name, Easy Virtue tells the tale of a glitzy, American "floozy," Larita, who meets the son and heir of a posh, English family on the Rivieira in the '20s, marries him and then finds out she got more than she bargained for when she and new husband John return to the family digs in wintry Angleterre. Except, his family also get more than they bargained for in Larita, who isn't exactly the woman they imagined John marrying (not least because she drives fast cars and is--good god--allergic to flowers).

Jessica Biel, whom I always confuse with Jessica "Sin City" Alba, is actually very good as Larita (much better than Scarlett Johansson in Match Point, who also plays the glamorous American marrying into an aristocratic English family; that's probably not much of a compliment, though), although the butler, played by the guy from My Family (Kris Marshall), stole more scenes. Kristin Scott Thomas, meanwhile, plays Veronica, the glacial mother-in-law who engages in an ever-escalating battle of the wits with the new daughter-in-law, who is doing her best to interfere with Veronica's efforts to keep the family afloat. John himself and his two dippy sisters are all a bit drippy, although John's BFF (who lives on the estate next door and whom John was supposed to marry) is slightly spunkier.

Given that John is played by Prince Caspian and his dad by Colin Firth, I wasn't really expecting this film to score very highly on the talent-o-meter--unlike pretty much all of my school chums and other female friends, I never really got off on Mr Darcy and certainly not on Mark Darcy in Bridget Jones (or his characters in Fever PitchShakespeare in Love, Hope Springs or Love Actually), and yet somehow, Firth was very attractive in Easy Virtue. While John and his sisters are being drippy and failing to defend Larita against their mother, Mr Whitaker Senior is the only member of the family to stick up for her. 

He sees the free spirit in her and empathises greatly--he too spent several years after fighting in the Great War, hanging out in France, until the angry wife stormed over and dragged him back from the brothel to the family estate in England but it was very much à contre-cœur and since then, he seemed to stop caring about the social engagements, the running of the estate and his wife's petty ambitions. He plays along and fixes up a seriously buggered motorbike in his spare time--a motorbike, which Larita mounts when honouring her promise to her mother-in-law that she will "ride in the hunt." The tango danced by Larita and her father-in-law was definitely too smoking for a PG-rated film and only makes it obvious what a mistake her marriage to the sweet and well-meaning--if immature and utterly naive--John was.

This new-found interest in Mr Firth does not mean that I will be queueing up to see Dorian Gray, of course (in which Prince Caspian also stars)--I try to steer well clear of film adaptations of Oscar Wilde plays after An Ideal Husband (I was too young at the time for Jeremy Northam to make up for it). However, I could be persuaded to check out The Meat Trade if it is ever released.

As for Easy Virtue, it certainly generated easy laughter among the (overwhelmingly female) audience and as expected, the wit was suitably piquant. Some of the reviews I read argued that despite Biel's tour de force, the drama never really got going properly until the dying minutes, which meant it felt like it wasn't paced correctly; I would be inclined to agree had I not been too distracted by the tango. Not bad. Not bad at all...


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