- Jessica Biel as Larita Whittaker
- Ben Barnes as John Whittaker
- Colin Firth as Major Jim Whittaker
- Kristin Scott Thomas as Mrs. Veronica Whittaker
Based on the Noël Coward play and boasting a witty screenplay and fine performances, Easy Virtue is a period comedy that examines the clashing of cultures in the 1920’s revolving around a middle-class Englishman’s hasty marriage to a forthright American woman and the subsequent reactions of his stuffy family.
1920’s; John Whittaker is the only boy of a middle class family. Whilst vacationing in Monaco, he falls for the beautiful American racecar driver Larita, who is much older than him. After a brief courtship, they marry and John decides to take his bride back to the English countryside to meet his family who live in a large and grand house. Larita is greeted with an icy reception by John’s imperious mother Veronica; a steely, dragon like woman of order and stability and his two sisters. John’s father Jim, a former major in the war is a shadow of his former self and feels no love for Veronica. He does however come to appreciate the breath of fresh air that Larita brings to the dreary house. Although she attempts to get along with her in-laws and adapt to English culture, the free thinking and feisty Larita finds it difficult because of how different her upbringing is to the high-ranking family’s and the continuing opposition from Veronica. Can her marriage to John last with all the hostility around her? Cue vicious and caustic dialogue and a humorous insight into the machinations of the upper class in the 20’s as Easy Virtue unravels with hilarious and sizzling results.
Praise must to go to the period design which accentuates the glamorous era of the 20’s which is sometimes at odds with Veronica’s attempts at tradition. The manor in which the family lives is designed with a keen eye for period detail and really is a stunning sight to behold. The costume design is gorgeous, especially in the various gowns worn by the glamorous Larita that set pulses racing around the inner circle of the household. The jazzy score helps add to the period atmosphere, including a sultry rendition of “Mad about the boy” sang by Jessica Biel.
The witty screenplay captures the conflicting emotions that run high as a result of Larita’s arrival into the household. It humorously cuts through the facade of civility with a sword like wit that gives the audience room to laugh. Stephen Elliott directs with a brisk pace that keeps the one liners and scenes that mock society values coming thick and fast. Only occasionally does the film feel uneven when it tries to add some serious undertones. The cast of Easy Virtue are ideally chosen to flesh out this story of social disorder and how the life of one family is turned upside down by the eldest son’s marriage. In the role of Larita, Jessica Biel is vivacious, sexy and convincing. I’m not usually the biggest fan of Biel’s acting, but I can’t fault her work here. She conveys the forthright manner of Larita whilst showing us subtle insights into the depths of this woman with charm and sophistication. As the lovestruck John whose impulsive marriage disrupts the order of things, Ben Barnes is effectively wide-eyed and naive as his character begins to question the resentment thrown Larita’s way. Colin Firth is marvellous as the dishevelled father, he really shows us the crushed pride and happiness that were once within this man, which the war took from him. Kristin Scott Thomas flat-out nails the role of the stony Veronica, delivering her lines with mendacious wit and astonishment like a hornet protecting its nest.
A funny period film with style, wit and great performances, Easy Virtue is marvellous viewing for its satire on middle class values.