Between world wars, the Whittaker's estate is sinking; only the iron will of Mrs. Whittaker staves off bankruptcy while she awaits her son John's return from the continent. To her dismay, he brings a bride: an American widow who races cars. The bride, Larita, thinks she and John will visit and then go to London, where he'll work and she'll race. But John is to the manor born, and mother is nothing if not a master at plans and manipulation. Soon it's all-out war between mother and bride, with John's father, a burnt out veteran of the Great War, in the bride's corner ineffectually. Mother has a plan to join with the neighboring estate; only Larita is in her way. Can't we all get along? Written by
A Room with a View
Written by Noël Coward
Published by Chappell Music Ltd. (PRS)
All rights administered by Chappell & Co. Inc.
Licensed courtesy of Warner Chappell Music Ltd.
Performed by Stephan Elliott with The Easy Virtue Orchestra See more »
Jessica Biel who is still probably best known for being the virtuous good girl preacher's kid Mary Camden from 7th Heaven gets to tackle a classic Noel Coward role in one of his early plays Easy Virtue. She's the American interloper in an English aristocratic family and she's unsettling to family matriarch Kristin Scott-Thomas.
Noel Coward who wrote about these upper classes and twitted their pretensions with such wit that they kept coming back for more and kind of adopted him in a way they never adopted Oscar Wilde or George Bernard Shaw, was a kid who grew up in poverty and made his way out through his many talents to entertain. Those in the upper classes who took Coward to their hearts felt themselves to be modern, progressive, and generally with it in terms of social trends. The Whittakers in Easy Virtue are some other kind of aristocrats, not anybody like that hangs out at the parties we invite Noel to entertain at.
What Amelia Earhart is to aviation, Jessica Biel's character is to auto racing. She's a young widow from the Detroit area and of course being from that area has an interest in motor cars and auto racing. She's fresh from winning at Monte Carlo and she's also won young Ben Barnes the heir to the Whittaker name and estates. Which might not be all that much, there's a name and a lot of land and debts.
When Barnes brings Biel home to the family they are mortified by her classless American ways in the sense of not recognizing class distinctions. It was one of those things we got rid of after 1776, no titles of nobility. We had our aristocrats, but that's a whole other story.
Scott-Thomas dominates the family, trying desperately to keep the estate together. Her husband Colin Firth served in World War I and the horror of it did something to him. It probably not only has to do with the horror of that trench war slaughter, but the fact that class distinctions tend to melt in combat. He and Biel kind of like each other, but it's his wife who rules the Whittaker roost now.
A scandal from the past threatens to disrupt the Barnes/Biel marriage and that forms the crux on which the story turns. In fact at the end its really up to the viewer to figure out what will eventually happen with the two of them.
This is the second film adaption of Easy Virtue, the first was a silent film from 1928 and was directed by a young Alfred Hitchcock. Easy Virtue was actually premiered in America before London in 1924 and starred the great American stage actress Jane Cowl. I guess Coward figured with an American heroine it was best to get it before the American theatergoers before the British ones.
This version of Easy Virtue is directed flawlessly by Stephen Elliot who made a fine use of period music by Noel Coward, Cole Porter and others and in the end over the credits really mocked the upper classes in the Coward tradition by playing When The Going Gets Tough, The Tough Get Going. I believe Elliott was trying to say those classes, especially the ones we see here might not have the right stuff any more.
And of course there's the obligatory fox hunt which the upper classes indulged in, still do. As Oscar Wilde said, "the unspeakable after the uneatable."
Any chance for the younger generation to be exposed to Noel Coward is worth seeing.
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