Easy Virtue (2008)

Starring: Jessical Biel, Kristin Scott Thomas, Colin Firth, Ben Barnes, Katherine Parkinson, Pip Torrens, Kimberley Nixon

Directed by: Stephan Elliott

Rating: 1 2 3 4

Ben Barnes and Jessica Biel prepare to meet the parents in 1930s comedy Easy Virtue As the credit crunches and recession bites, what better way to escape the winter of discontent than by losing oneself in a frivolous 1930s comedy like Easy Virtue. Billed as a cross between Brideshead Revisited and Meet the Parents –complete with embarrassing nudity and family pets meeting unfortunate ends – this is a classic case of worlds colliding as happy-go-lucky young heir apparent John Whittaker (Ben Barnes) brings his brash new older American bride Larita (Jessica Biel) yo his crumbling family pile in Englandshire.

But it turns out that this cheeky cautionary tale of bankrupt aristocrats dancing on the brink of financial disaster is more relevant to our times than we might at first think. Yes, it is glamorous, funny and mordantly witty (and the soundtrack of Cole Porter classics and jazzed up pop standards is fab) but it's also a harsh tale of difficult decisions made in the face of impossible situations through a façade of clenched teeth, stiff upper lips and dazzling smiles.

Jessica Biel (for the first time that I'm aware) is radiant as the platinum blonde bombshell nouveau Mrs Whittaker, whose initial attempts to fit in to a family determined to reject her are soon discarded in favour of a full-on shock assault.

Kristin Scott Thomas (centre) as the formidable Mrs Whittaker in Easy Virtue

But the real plaudits have to go to Kristin Scott Thomas, who's simply marvellous, channelling Joyce Grenfell by way of Mrs Thatcher to create a monster of a mother-in-law. I'd love to see her go head to head with Emma Thompson's Lady Marchmain, cuz I'm not sure whom I'd bet on to win.

So Easy Virtue is not the easy ride the trailers promise – it's actually a lot more thought-provoking, pertinent and black – and all the better for it. Just don't go expecting a Hollywood ending where everyone kisses and makes up happily. The screenplay does, after all, flow from the caustic pen of that arch cynic, Noel Coward and no-one knew more about being part of – and apart from – high society than he did. As the credit crunches, Easy Virtue bites back. With dazzling white teeth and a twinkle in its eye…

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