Easy Virtue

easyvirtue

Director Stephan Elliott, co-writing with Sheridan Jobbins, adapts Noel Coward’s 1924 play, a sort of proto-Meet the Parents set in the stuffily appointed drawing rooms and spectacular hunting grounds of British aristocrats during the Jazz Age. Here, a callow young heir (Ben Barnes) brings his forward-thinking American bride (Jessica Biel) home to the family estate, where the parents (Kristin Scott Thomas, Colin Firth) receive his unannounced matrimony with distinct disapprovals. Mayhem roaringly ensues. Although at least dark enough to have invited a loose adaptation from Alfred Hitchcock in 1928, Coward’s tone still favors light comedy of manners; Elliott’s cloyingly campy shtick, including ill-advised period orchestrations of recognizably more recent songs, suggests a too-heavy hand. He doesn’t have the movie under control until more than halfway through, when the veteran Firth comes to his and everyone else’s rescue. Yes, ours too.

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