The English Impatient
One of my least favourite genres is what I would call period dramas, those which take us back to the likes of the early 20th century and in to the stuffy homes of the British well to do, it is why I've never been into "Downton Abbey". But "Easy Virtue" is different, especially Stephan Elliott's adaptation of Noel Coward's play, because it has energy, humour and a bite which makes it playful. The social stuffiness is still there but because this is a story about an American free spirit entering the home of a stuffy well to do family there is a waspish nature as war breaks out between family members as they fire acidic barbs at each other in distain of each others way of life. "Easy Virtue" is also aided by a fine cast be it Colin Firth and Kristin Scott Thomas in central roles or Kris Marshall as the put upon butler Furber.
Veronica Whittaker (Kristin Scott Thomas - Keeping Mum) is happy that her son John is finally returning home after his jaunt around the continent, but her happiness turns to pain when she discovers he is bringing home with him his new bride Larita (Jessica Biel - I Now Pronounce You Chuck & Larry), an American. Despite Larita's best attempts to play ball and try to get on with Veronica nothing she does is good enough and the only person who seems on her side, other than the staff who find her a breath of fresh air, is Veronica's husband Mr. Whittaker (Colin Firth) who finds living in the stuffy stately home and his wife soul destroying. Eventually it just gets too much and refusing to give in war breaks out as Veronica tries to make Larita leave whilst she does her best to wind her mother-in-law up.
So for those who don't care for period dramas and the simple thought of a costume drama puts you off let me put "Easy Virtue" into modern terms, it may have been written by Noel Coward and was once made into a movie by Alfred Hitchcock in 1928 but the storyline is similar to "Monster-in-Law". As such we have this story of a mother in law not liking her son's bride, the bride doing her best to placate the overbearing mother and finally they wage war on each other. It really is that simple and so whilst we may have a 1920s setting and a variety of classic period drama characters "Easy Virtue isn't in the least bit stuffy.
In fact "Easy Virtue" is very playful thanks to Noel Coward's wonderful words which are full of bite and double meaning. When John asks Larita to play tennis with him she replies that she will play with herself as she is good fun, it is that calibre of wit which makes it so much fun. In fact "Easy Virtue" gets most of its humour from the words with very few scenes relying on visual humour although a scene featuring a dead dog is funny and the revealing can-can scene is full of bare bottom cheek.
As such whilst "Easy Virtue" has the look it is most certainly not a stiff period drama and part of the reason why is that we have interesting characters and good performances. Jessica Biel, Kristin Scott Thomas, Ben Barnes and Colin Firth all deliver wonderful performances delivering the witty barbs with such a snap that every line strikes home. When Veronica meets Larita and comments that she is "American" you feel the humour but also the disdain and when Larita decides to fight back by having a thanks giving meal you can see the delight in her eyes that she has riled Veronica. But it is not just the main stars that shine as Kris Marshall is just as much fun as butler Furber who moans about Veronica behind her back.
What this all boils down to is that if you are not a fan of period drama then don't dismiss "Easy Virtue" because this isn't some stuffy drama but a comedy with bite. The blend of actors, characters and Noel Coward's snappy dialogue makes it a witty comedy with some unexpected moments.