Easy Virtue (a J!-ENT Blu-ray Disc Review)
September 6, 2009 by Dennis Amith
“Despite the financial and schedule challenges the crew and talent had in trying to create this film which is adapted from the popular Noel Coward play from 1924, I found ‘Easy Virtue’ to be sexy, entertaining and fun.”
TITLE: Easy Virtue
YEAR OF FILM RELEASE: 2008
DURATION: 96 Minutes
BLU-RAY DISC INFORMATION: 1080p High Definition (2:35:1), English, German, Portuguese Dolby TrueHD5.1, Spanish 5.1 Dolby Digital, Subtitles: English, English SDH, German, Portuguese, Spanish and Turkish
COMPANY: Sony Pictures Classics/Sony Pictures Home Entertainment
RATED: PG-13 (For sexual content, brief partial nudity and smoking throughout)
Release Date: September 15, 2009
Based on a play by Noel Coward
Directed by Stephan Elliott
Written by Stephan Elliott and Sheridan Jobbins
Executive Producer: Paul Brett, Louise Goodsill, Douglas Hansen, Ralph Kamp, George McGhee, Peter Nichols, Tim Smith, James Spring and Cindy Wilkinson Kirven
Produced by Joseph Abrams, James D. Stern, Barnaby Thompson
Co-Produced by Alexandra Ferguson
Music by Marius De Vries
Cinematography by Martin Kenzie
Edited by Sue Blainey
Casting by Celestia Fox
Production Design by John Beard
Art Direction by Mark Scruton
Set Decoration by Niamh Coulter
Costume Design by Charlotte Walter
Jessica Biel as Larita Whittaker
Ben Barnes as John Wittaker
Kristin Scott Thomas as Mrs. Whittaker
Colin Firth as Mr. Whittaker
Kimberly Nixon as Hilda Whittaker
Katherine Parkson as Marion Whittaker
Kris Marshall as Furber
Christian Brassington as Phillip Hurst
Charlotte Riley as Sarah Hurst
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 2008 film capturing that 192o’s era style and feel in a sexy, humorous and enjoyable take of the popular 1924 Noel Coward play.
The last time “Easy Virtue” made it on the big screen was back in in 1928, via a silent film directed by Alfred Hitchcock that featured more darker undertones, but “Easy Virtue” is brought back to the big screen courtesy of writer and director Stephan Elliott (“Eye of the Beholder” and “The Adventures of Priscilla”) and co-writer Sheridan Jobbins (“Alexa’s PArty” and “House of Fun”) and follows the play much more closely than the Hitchcock film. The two are joined by composer Marius De Vries (“Moulin Rouge!”, “Eye of the Beholder”, “The Avengers”, “Romeo & Juliet”) and cinematographer Martin Kenzie (who has worked on “Babylon A.D.”, “Syriana”, “Mamma Mia!” and “Tomorrow Never Dies”).
The film features a talented cast which includes Jessica Biel (“7th Heaven”, “Stealth” and “Next”), Ben Barnes (“The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian”), Kristin Scott Thomas (“Confessions of a Shopaholic”, “The Other Boleyn Girl”, Gosford Park” and “The Golden Compass”), Colin Firth (“Mamma Mia!”, “Bridget Jones” films”, “Love Actually”) and Kris Marshall (“Sold”, “Heist”, “Murder City”).
“Easy Virtue” had one of the most difficult film productions. The film had significant slashing within its budget and was down to $12 million (the crumbling of the US economy and the American dollar didn’t help either) and to make things more challenging, Stephan Elliott’s pre-production and production schedule was cut in half. So, needless to say, the pressure of the short schedule and low budget forced the filmmakers to do some guerrilla filmmaking but in exotic locations.
The talent had to wing the film without any rehearsal time and rehearsal was literally shooting the film with several takes in order to make the film look believable. In fact, the talent knew what had to be done and thus, the female talents never fraternized on the set or grew close in order to capture the emotion of the film. And at post-production, the producers cut the runtime of the film down to under 100 minutes. Needless to say, for the film “Easy Virtue”, its filmmakers and talents had a major challenge but in the end, I felt that the cast and crew managed to pull it off.
The film revolves around a professional race car driver and American widow named Larita (Jessica Biel) who has fallen for John Whittaker (Ben Barnes). Barnes then takes her to meet the Whittaker family who live in a large mansion in rural area of England and look extremely wealthy and refined. The setting of the film is after World War I during the early 1920’s.
The Whittaker family also includes:
Veronica Whittaker (Kristin Scott Thomas) – The family matriarch, cold-as-ice and very dedicated to her family lineage and her land which was created by seven generations of Whittakers who were farmers. Not very pleased with her young son’s marriage to Larita but wants him to stay home.
Colonel Whittaker (Colin Firth) – The quiet father who seems to be unhappy with his life and is often supportive of Larita in front of Veronica and probably the only member of the Whittaker family outside of John that Larita can talk personally to. Colonel Whittaker has not been the same after fighting in World War I and has viewed life much differently since then.
Marion Whittaker (Katherine Parkson) – The eldest daughter that waits for a man named Edgar to come home. For some reason, every time she sees a picture of a man, she thinks he looks like him. Also, has a fascination about reading death and murder.
Hilda Whittaker (Kimberly Nixon) – The youngest daughter who likes/dislikes Larita. Likes her energy and style but dislikes how the guy she does like, Phillip Hurst seems to have his eyes on Larita.
Furber the Butler (Kris Marshall) – A person who assists Larita and sometimes doesn’t like how he is treated by Whittaker family. Thus he enjoys helping Larita anytime he can.
Sarah Hurst (Charlotte Riley) – A woman that grew up with John Whittaker and many have thought those two would marry but although John has married Larita, she still manages to care for him but also remains cordial to Larita.
Philip Hurst (Christian Brassington) – A man that Hilda Whittaker likes (he refers to her as sausage fingers) and is attracted to Larita.
As Larita tries to become patient with her husband and loves him unconditionally, she knows that the women of the Whittaker family do not like her. From her accidentally sitting and killing their beloved family dog and not enthusiastic about the life of high society (since Larita was raised by a father who worked at a Detroit steel factory), she wants to move to London with John, so she can continue her race car driving career and that John can work and get a job. Something that Mrs. Whittaker is totally against.
So, it becomes a battle of who will John listen to…mother or new wife. And thus, Mrs. Whittaker will do what she can do make her feel unwelcome and her stay at the Whittaker home unpleasant.
Can Larita stay tolerant towards the Whittaker women and continue to live at their home while unhappy and what happens when news about her ex-husband’s death comes out into the open?
VIDEO & AUDIO:
“Easy Virtue” is an interesting film that easily benefited from the various locations of where the film was shot. As mentioned earlier, the crew and cast had enormous challenges due to the cut in budget and so, a lot of the filming took place outdoors and in various indoor shots in well-respected areas of England. The costume designer did a great job in capturing that 1920’s feel with the clothing.
The film is presented in 1080p High Definition (2:35:1). Overall, I felt the look and feel of 1920’s was nicely captured by cinematographer Martin Kenzie and although not a reference quality, vibrant style of film, the scenes are quite clean, no sign of bad artifacting. Blacks are well-done, skin tones looked natural and for the most part, picture quality was well-done.
As for the lossless audio which is featured in English, German and Portuguese Dolby TrueHD 5.1 (and Spanish 5.1 Dolby Digital), “Easy Virtue” is a dialogue-driven and music-based film. In the commentary, Director Stephan Elliott talks about his proudest moment outside of the film itself is the music. Composer Marius De Vries does a great job but it’s the music which you will often hear Ben Barnes or Jessica Biel singing that sounds just right and natural. Music from Noel Coward that seems just right and capturing that 1920’s style and feel. So, for the most part, the film is front and center channel driven.
Also, although “Easy Virtue” is not a musical, it was quite cool to hear the jazz 20’s styles of music but featuring songs sung by various cast members.
Subtitles are featured in English, English SDH, German, Portuguese, Spanish and Turkish.
“Easy Virtue” comes with the following special features are provided in Standard Definition, English Stereo & Mono with English, German, Portuguese and Spanish subtitles:
- Commentary with Director Stephan Elliott & Writer Sheridan Jobbins – A very informative and fun commentary. From Director Stephan Elliott who wanted to give Jessica Biel the opportunity to do something different for an acting role (and also when Justin Timberlake came to the set), to Colin Firth having to do the dancing scene, Kristin Scott Thomas who felt that she couldn’t take on the part of playing someone so cold and of course, the many challenges the film faced due to the cut of the budget and schedule time for the film.
Deleted Scenes – A total of four deleted scenes which include: Standard Immigration Policy, Breathless Already?, You must stop egging father on and what will you do?.
Blooper Reel – (8:48) A blooper reel but also contains scenes that were cut from the film that were necessarily not bloopers.
New York Premiere – (6:12) The cast and crew talk about their experience working on the film. The talent’s favorite scenes from the film and more.
“Easy Virtue” was a fun and entertaining film. I enjoyed a film that was based in that 1920’s era and enjoyed the various fashion and just the overall look and feel of the film.
I am unfamiliar with the original play but I thought that the film was well-cast and the subtle changes to make it more for a modern audience was also well-done (especially hearing in the commentary of how certain scenes were supposed to go). It was great to see Jessica Biel take on a role so different from what she has done in the past. The character of Larita is such a strong woman and despite being a tomboy who loves machinery and racing, she exhibited beauty and humor in her role but also a woman who felt by being forced to live at the home in a life that she did not want, she was slowly being poisoned by the man she loves.
Kristin Scott Thomas was absolutely great in playing the cold, Veronica Whittaker. She is such an accomplished actress and to know there were no rehearsals, I felt that she nailed her role and did a great job.
Ben Barnes as the young John may be known for his dashing heroics in “The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian” but I felt that he did a great job in portraying a man who is in love with his wife but also his dedication to family.
And for Colin Firth, it was one of the few roles where he played a man with only a few words. But it’s that anguish you see in him that comes through in the film and although he doesn’t have a tremendous amount of speaking lines, he more than makes up for it at the end of the film.
Again, I enjoyed this film but I’m not in the place where I can say that it follows what Noel Coward may have wanted or not wanted. I am familiar by reading the many comments from many Noel Coward fans who have supported or have shown disdain towards the film. It’s also important to note that the film was given a positive review by the Noel Coward Society in which they have said in their review of the film:
Coward was the master of the well-constructed, impeccably witty play that eventually reveals some home truths about the emotional repression of the English middle-classes and the stifling repression endemic to the British class system. All of those elements are present in this adaptation. There are still lines of such wit and savagery that they easily connect with a modern audience and the message about the need to break from from the shackles of the past and embrace the possibilities of a new, uncertain future is timeless.
Who knows what value the Noel Coward brand has for a modern audience, but this is enjoyable and accessible enough to provide a substantial specialist hit.
With that being said, despite the low-budget and mounting challenges that the film had faced, it would have been nice to see a director’s cut of the film after knowing that a good portion of the film was cut by producer Barnaby Thompson. But I think what we have seen in the final cut worked very well.
As for the Blu-ray, for those who enjoyed the film will definitely find the commentary to be quite interesting. It’s quite evident that director Stephan Elliott had a difficult time with the shortened schedule and possibly countless squabbles with the producers. Picture and audio quality were very good and although the special features was not plentiful, I felt the commentary made me appreciate the film even more.
In the end, if they had more time and money, would the film have been any different? I don’t know. But knowing the challenges that the crew and talent had to work with, what they were able to make possible and because of the fact that I’m not too informed when it comes to Noel Coward’s works, suffice to say, I found “Easy Virtue” to be quite entertaining, humorous and enjoyable.
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