Jessica Biel, Colin Firth, Kristin Scott Thomas and Ben Barnes bring Noël Coward's witty comedy of manners magnificently to life in this "deliciously cheeky" (Ella Taylor, The Village Voice) adaptation from director Stephan Elliott (The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert). When British playboy John brings his new wife Larita - a race car-driving feminist from Detroit - home to meet the family at their country estate, pretty much everyone's expectations are disappointed. His snooty mother is offended by Larita's carefree American ways, while Larita does everything she can to get her mother-in-law to loosen up, which only annoys her even more. John's sisters have diametrically opposed feelings about their new sister-in-law, but his father is intrigued to have finally found another who sees through the family's façade - and takes great perverse pleasure in watching his wife meet her match.
A lighthearted adaptation of a Noel Coward play set in the late 1920s, Easy Virtue
stars Jessica Biel as Larita, an adventurous American who marries John, the naive, British heir (Ben Barnes) to a crumbling family estate. Whisked into the less-than-receptive bosom of John's kin, Larita soon finds herself drawing the scorn of her mother-in-law (Kristin Scott Thomas), who would have preferred John marry a longtime sweetheart from his own genteel community rather than a brash Yankee. Eager to move to London, Larita knows the longer a post-honeymoon John visits his family the harder it will be for the newlyweds to live on their own terms, and she's right. Giving up on any notion of fitting in, Larita suffers a few embarrassments before fighting back. But nothing can help her once a past scandal encroaches on her dream of happiness.
Co-writer and director Stephan Elliott (The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert) keeps everything breezy and fun, though the clashes between Larita and her malicious mother-in-law are keenly felt. Elliott's period sensibility is very strong, not least of all his appreciation of John's father (Colin Firth), a restless intellectual and member of the so-called Lost Generation of World War I veterans. Firth's performance as a man distanced from his family's preoccupations and material woes is a real highlight of Easy Virtue. When he dances a tango, late in the story, one can see years of repressed desire erupt in him. --Tom Keogh
Stills from Easy Virtue (Click for larger image)