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Easy Virtue


Stars: Jessica Biel, Colin Firth, Kristin Scott Thomas, Ben Barnes

Director: Stephan Elliott

Although it could do with a little more of original author Noel Coward's cutting wit and a little less of its serious undertones, this perfectly-cast late-1920s romp is still thoroughly enjoyable.

The civilised caper begins when English golden boy John Whittaker (Ben Barnes) woos and wins American grand prix driver Larita (Biel) and takes his bride back to his stately home. The welcome from his mother (Scott Thomas), up to her ears in tweeds and debt, is frosty to say the least and Mrs W quickly decides her son has made a mistake.

Her spirited daughters (Kimberley Nixon, Katherine Parkinson) are soon agin the newcomer, too, John proves a broken reed, and only Mrs W's estranged husband (Firth), embittered since his return from the war 10 years earlier, having lost all the men under his command, is on a friendly wavelength, leavening the atmosphere with waspish remarks.

'I don't feel like smiling,' pouts one of the daughters. 'You're English, dear, ' he comments drily. 'Fake it.'

The weakness of the plot is that, although Mrs W wants her son to stay at home, she also pooh-poohs the idea of a job, rather negating his 'role' in clearing the family debt. Still, there is much to enjoy, with Firth stealing the show even from Kris Marshall's butler, whose poker face can convey oceans of emotion. And Barnes and Biel both reveal tuneful singing voices, even if the director rarely gives them the chance to progress beyond the first few bars.

David Quinlan

UK 2008. UK Distributor: Pathe. Technicolor.
96 minutes. Widescreen. UK certificate: PG.

Guidance ratings (out of 3): Sex/nudity 0, Violence/Horror 0, Drugs 0, Swearing 0.

Review date: 02 Nov 2008