Easy Virtue


by Johnny Web (Uncle Scoopy; Greg Wroblewski)

Easy Virtue is an elegant period piece about the last century's interbellum in the UK. A young heir to a massive but decaying family estate injects turmoil into his family's affairs when he brings home Larita, a liberated American wife, the winner of the Monaco Grand Prix, as played by Jessica Biel. The heir's mother and his wife immediately begin a fight for his soul, with most of the family siding with the haughty matriarch against the interloper. Only the heir's world-weary father supports his marriage and welcomes his lively new bride.

The screenplay is an adaptation of a Noel Coward play which was written when the story actually took place, in 1924, when Coward was 25 and cynical. Coward was a pragmatist who looked at England and its aristocracy with cold detachment, albeit spiced with wit, for the play is a comedy, not a tragedy, although it is a comedy with some very serious underlying ideas and a fair share of heartache. In his autobiography, "Present Indicative," Coward wrote that he wanted to present a comedy in the structure of a tragedy "to compare the déclassée woman of today with the more flamboyant demi-mondaine of the 1890's" Yeah, whatever, there, Noel. Thankfully the actual play is down-to-earth and generally free of pretentious bullshit and accented e's, unlike that summary.

For reasons not very clear to me, the film's version of the story altered a sordid aspect of Larita's past.

... In Coward's version, Larita's ex-husband, a jealous man, accused her of having an affair with a painter when she posed for a nude. She denied it, but the artist - tormented by unrequited love - committed suicide. This was presented as proof of infidelity at the divorce trial.

... In the film's version, it was the husband who committed suicide when he was dying of cancer. There was a trial, but it was a murder trial, not a divorce proceeding, in which Larita was accused of murdering the sick man. (Although acquitted, she later admits that she did in fact assist him to commit suicide, but did so out of love for him.)

The film script thus changed Larisa from a wrongfully accused divorcee with a scandalous divorce trial to a widow who was hiding a scandalous murder trial. Perhaps the screenwriters felt that her having been a divorcee and a nude model was not scandalous enough in 2009 to produce the emotional impact it generated with 1924 audiences. My own opinion is that Coward's original version is infinitely more credible, and that anyone who would be inclined to watch this film would understand that people from the English upper crust had conservative attitudes toward divorce and nude modeling in the 1920s.

The film's ending is also a change from the play, although in that case I preferred the re-write. The play ends with Larita departing alone after having danced with the twit next door. The film ends with her departing with her father-in-law, with whom she had just done a sexy tango. That tango was my favorite scene in the film, by far. An embarrassed Larita requests a song from the band, the music starts, and she is left hanging and partnerless by her husband, so her suddenly gallant father-in-law steps in gracefully. It's possible to see that Colin Firth is no dancer, but he's such a charismatic performer than he sells the dance completely, and provides an unexpected but completely welcome bit of erotic tension between the older man and his daughter-in-law. What will happen when the two of them leave together? The nature of their future relationship is ambiguous. Perhaps they will bond romantically, perhaps the young woman has simply restored the older man's zest for life, and is symbolically driving him away from his figurative prison. The film is open-ended.

While its heavy-handed treatment of the mother-in-law seems to be more sitcom material than Oscar material, and its class warfare ground seems too well-trod by earlier and better pictures, Easy Virtue looks gorgeous and has some great moments, most of them supplied by Colin Firth as the complicated, disillusioned war veteran whose will to live had been nearly exhausted before the arrival of his feisty new daughter-in-law. The addition of the tango and departure scenes, plus the fact that Firth's character has the most different dimensions in his character, plus the fact that Firth's character grows the most, plus the usual fine performance from Firth, all added up to a major transposition of audience sympathy from the play to the screenplay. Those elements turned a play that was originally about about Larita into a movie that was really about her father-in-law, and not a bad one at that.

DVD Blu-Ray


3 Roger Ebert (of 4 stars)
50 Rotten Tomatoes  (% positive)
58 Metacritic.com (of 100)




6.7 IMDB summary (of 10)
B Yahoo Movies




Box Office Mojo. It took in $2.5 million, never having reached more than 255 theaters. It fared much better internationally, with a foreign gross of $14m+




The only nudity is provided by Kimberley Nixon as the heir's naive youngest sister, who is misinformed about the proper way to perform a can-can in polite English society, and does so without her panties. (Biel joined the can-can, but wore her knickers, alas!)

There are frontal flashes, and even a peek between her legs when she bends over, but she appears to be covered with some kind of patch. There is a good look at her bottom.


Web www.scoopy.com

Our Grade:

If you are not familiar with our grading system, you need to read the explanation, because the grading is not linear. For example, by our definition, a C is solid and a C+ is a VERY good movie. There are very few Bs and As. Based on our descriptive system, this film is a:


Not one of Noel Coward's masterpieces, but quite entertaining at times.