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The Student News Site of Stony Brook University

The Statesman

The Student News Site of Stony Brook University

The Statesman


    Keeping Up Appearances

    There is nothing easy about Noel Coward’s play ‘Easy Virtue’, now a film by Stephan Elliot.

    What starts off as a breezy comedy set on an English manor in the 1920s, soon turns into an ugly look at how ‘tradition’ and ‘family responsibility’ become euphemisms for prejudice and cruelty.

    The film begins when John Whittaker (Ben Barns, ‘Prince Caspian’), the heir apparent to the family estate returns home from a jaunt on the Continent with an American widow (Jessica Biel, ‘The Illusionist’) for a wife.

    According to John’s tyrannical mother (Kristin Scott Thomas, ‘The English Patient’), Larita (Biel) is an inappropriate choice for a wife, not only because she’s American and she does something as unladylike as racing cars, but also because their marriage stops John from marrying the neighbor’s daughter. Thus adding money to the empty coffers of the estate.

    John, as it soon becomes apparent, is rather na’iuml;ve in thinking that everyone will just ‘get along’; meanwhile, his mother persists in being rude to Larita, who is under the impression that they have only come to the manor for a short visit.

    Larita gets a rude awakening when she realizes that John has no intentions of leaving the family estate any time soon. The situation escalates as she realizes that she has no one to defend her, least of all her husband.

    The only possible ally is John’s father, Mr. Whittaker, played with glowing gravitas by Colin Firth (Love Actually). A shell-shocked veteran of WWI, however, he is silent and ineffectual as an ally for most of the film.

    Set against a backdrop of rolling green countryside and filled with authentic flapper-era fashions, Easy Virtue is certainly easy on the eyes, even if the cruelty and humiliation poured on Larita by her mother-in-law is hard to watch.

    The moral of the film-and the play, by extension-seems to be that in order to have a good relationship, one must be ready to defend one’s partner at all costs, especially to the people who seem to think they have the most authority to control you: your family.

    Like many films depicting inter-war Britain, ‘Easy Virtue’ shows us a decaying British upper-class that persists in fox-hunting, keeping a legion of servants, and turning up their noses at the press of the modernity.

    Mrs. Whittaker, for all her cruelty, is part of a dying race. Played to perfection by Scott Thomas, we cannot help feeling a small pang of pity for her; she believes she’s doing what she can by her family. The facts that times have changed and that she is being left behind in the ways of the past are no fault of hers.

    An excellent cast and several moments of true levity save ‘Easy Virtue’ from being an easy catastrophe. Though at times harrowing, the film manages to keep up its pace while ‘keeping up appearances.’ At the end, you’ll want to pull out your pearls and heels and dance the Charleston yourself.’

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