FILM: Easy virtue

EASY VIRTUE Cert PG 97 mins Palace Cinema

YOU can't get any more British than an adaptation of a Noel Coward play, released by the newly revamped Ealing Studios.

Easy Virtue was one of the many efforts that the prolific playwright churned out in the 1920s, Coward being renowned for his social commentary and barbed wit (he is probably best remembered for his music hall song Mad Dogs and Englishmen).

This new film version (Hitchcock did a silent one back in 1928) is directed and co-written by Australian Stephan Elliott, who came on to the scene in the mid-1990s with Priscilla, Queen of the Desert, but has been relatively quiet since.

Model-turned-actress Jessica Biel stars as Larita, a glamorous American widow who marries British rich-kid John Whittakar (played by Ben Barnes, seen as Prince Caspian in the recent Narnia film) after a whirlwind romance in the South of France. When he brings his new bride back to the family home in the depths of the English countryside, the stage is set for a clash of cultures as the feisty Larita is met with varying degrees of approval by the dysfunctional family.

Colin Firth and Kristin Scott Thomas team up as husband and wife, roles they also filled in The English Patient, and like the earlier classic they are both very good playing a couple ill-suited to each other.

She is naturally suspicious of her son's new bride, whom she considers to be of 'easy virtue' because of her seemingly carefree approach and the manner in which she has adapted to widowhood.

The story behind Larita's first husband's death doesn't quite ring true to the matriarch of the family, who would much rather her son had married Sarah, his childhood sweetheart and upstanding local girl.

Larita has an ally in Colin Firth though, whose character has been scarred by World War One and is tired of his wife's outward demeanor of respectability.

Easy Virtue is a frothy affair but the source material is good and any cinema release which isn't based around some franchise is welcomed with open arms.

The script is workmanlike but at least it doesn't try to be clever and the quality of the acting makes sure the lines resonate soundly.

The inclusion of modern songs like Car Wash and When The Going Gets Tough on the soundtrack was pointless though and some of the more obvious setpieces, such as Larita riding her motorbike on the local hunt, were little more than padding.

As the forced politeness between mother and daughter-in-law develops into open hostility the story breezes along well enough and while I suspect this to be no more than an average adaptation of the play, any Noel Coward work is welcome in this world of CGI.

Kristin Scott Thomas is a bit too acerbic as the mother of the household and you never really sympathise with her position, but Colin Firth and Kris Marshall (from the BT adverts) as the butler, both have an easy air about them. They provide the backbone on which the other characters play out the action, which happily meanders along to a telegraphed, but satisfying, conclusion.

Overall – 7/10

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