Despite a sterling cast, wonderful location work and a script based on the play by Noel Coward, Easy Virtue never quite hits the right note as a film. It’s as if it has a sore throat and can’t decide whether to sing a little flat or a little sharp. It doesn’t help that the storyline is now exceedingly dated – a ‘racy’ American woman (she’s actually a racing car driver) marries the son of English landed gentry and comes a cropper at the hands of his somewhat bigoted family.
.She is Larita (Jessica Biel), a free spirit with a shady past, while he is naïve, fanciful John (Ben Barnes), son of the over-bearing Mrs Whittaker (Kristin Scott Thomas) and the rather more laidback Mr Whittaker (Colin Firth). When John brings Larita to the family’s countryseat she encounters hostility and also a little hero worship from his sisters (Katherine Parkinson and Kimberley Nixon), and suspicion and scorn from his mother. The all-knowing butler (Kris Marshall) and the rest of the domestic staff are soon firmly on her side, but there’s no way Larita is ever going to win the battle with his family as the odds are definitely stacked against her.
Firth and Scott Thomas are excellent in their roles, while Biel is less assured as feisty Larita, but sections of the dialogue fair whizz and bang with witticisms. However, someone along the way has made a terrible error of judgement about the music – modern songs such as Car Wash and Sex Bomb are given the Noel Coward treatment but still stand out as sore anachronisms in this period piece. Dee Pilgrim