Have I mentioned this before? I really heart Jessica Biel. I shan’t sing her praises too fulsomely here – in my opinion they’re way too obvious anyway, and it’d be boring – but add them to the fact that she’s basically a home-spun Colorado Girl, well she’s virtually unstoppable in my eyes. (OK, so Stealth was a clanger, but at least she worked that Bikini, right?) Anyway, here she is in Easy Virtue, the latest adaptation of Noel Coward’s play of the same name. Set in 1928, Biel plays Larita, a platinum bleached, trouser-wearing, chain-smoking American car-racer who impetuously marries Johnny (Ben Barnes), a man some years her junior, who happens to be heir to a crumbling English country estate. The estate’s precarious finances are one thing, it’s Johnny’s Disney witch Mother (Kristin Scott Thomas) and his equally Evil Sisters who assault Larita with the viciousness displayed by those who have nothing left but their self-importance.
The casting of Colin Firth as John’s father, and Kristin Scott Thomas as the harridan mother, may seem a bit obvious, honestly, but they do in fact rise above their own caricatures. And Jessica herself is spot on; a modern girl chafing under the rigidity of customs and culture and tradition that’s really valued only for its own sake. You really feel for her. Being based on a Coward play, this is a Comedy of Manners – only what the family put Larita through is not that funny, or pleasant. In fact, the comedic moments in the film seem somehow out-of-place in the face of such relentless nastiness. Some of the lines are great, of course, but on a personal level, watching the slow suffocation of Larita Whittaker is not for the faint-hearted. Still, that doesn’t make it not worth seeing. The only caveat I’d add is the music; it’s odd.
The main location used was Flintham Hall in Nottinghamshire – including the conservatory, described by VisitBritain.com as ‘the finest structure in England still attached to a private house.’ Giles Edleston, the locations manager describes it thus: “It’s semicircular and perfect in its proportions-so quintessentially English. It’s made of glass and beautiful local stone—which is now rather crumbly—and everything still works. It’s heated, it cools, and it has little fountains in it. It is exactly Mrs. Whitaker.” Read more behind-the-scenes goodies here.