Easy Virtue

 

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EASY VIRTUE  was a neat discovery, albeit a decade late, as this lively and droll comedy of manners came out in 2008 (a year later in the States), when it garnered mostly decent reviews but died an ignominious death at the boxoffice, its take of $18,463,793 only bringing it to 181st place among the array of big-budget money scooping action pix and glorified cartoons.

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The mid-1920s. Adventurous and lively, an American auto racer (Jessica Biel) is taken by her new and younger husband (Ben Barnes) to meet his family in England. The reception at the ‘Whittaker Estate’ could be warmer. The ice-queen mother (Kristen Scott Thomas) is aghast, and the doltish sisters are shown up by the glamorous and down-to-earth Yankee. Only the withdrawn father, (Colin Firth), skirmishing with his stuffy clan, shows the newcomer some warmth. When her checkered past comes out, things get more precarious, and her patience with the snobbery, stifling traditions (fox hunt, anyone?) and her hubby’s waffling sets the stage for a Glibfight at the Not-Okay Compound.

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Taken loosely from Noël Coward’s 1924 play, this well-cast, consistently amusing 97-minute battle of attitudes was directed by Stephan Elliott, who co-adapted the script with Sheridan Jobbins. Beneath the banter there is an underlay of melancholy from the assorted pasts of those involved, just enough to give it some weight, and the cast are most adroit, with deceptively casual American beauty Biel meeting and matching her illustrious British co-stars wit for tat.

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The digs are the Englefield House in Berkshire (there since 1558) and Flintham Hall, in Flintham (go figure), a relative newcomer from 1798, located in Nottinghamshire. An idiosyncratic music score punches the mood away from brushing the archaic. Well directed, attractively appointed and photographed, laced through with plenty of smiles and chuckles, and topped off by a most satisfying finish.  Thumb, aloft.

With Kimberly Nixon, Katherine Parkinson, Chris Marshall (fun as ‘Furber’ the butler), Christian Brassington and Pip Torrens.

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