One of Britain’s greatest directors takes on a drama by one of Britain’s greatest playwrights. It should be a recipe for success. How is it the completed film is so…tedious? Let’s back up a bit. Easy Virtue is a loose adaptation of a 1924 Noël Coward play concerned with a classic Hitchcock theme – hypocritical, self-righteous society. We’re in Downhill territory again, folks.
We begin in a courtroom detailing the divorce of our heroine Larita (Isabel Jeans) from her abusive husband and Alan Rickman doppelganger Mr. Filton (Franklin Dyall).
Accusations of infidelity are brought against her and the jury buys into it. Once the case is over she flees to the south of France to escape the scandal. There she meets John (played by our old friend Robin Irvine), a rich young man who soon falls for her in a whirlwind romance. They marry, and head back to England to meet John’s dreadfully snobbish family. It’s only a matter of time until her marriage from the past threatens her reputation in the present.
The film has serious pacing issues. After the initial set-up in the courtroom, there’s only a few moments of interest for the next hour or so; such as an inspired transition from France to England represented by cutting from a poodle to a bulldog or an oddly touching scene where we learn about John and Larita’s marriage proposal through the comical gawks of an eavesdropping switchboard operator.
Things pick in the last twenty minutes as Larita finally snaps and refuses to take anyone else’s shit. Jeans transforms the character into a firecracker, spitting out glorious put-downs to those who cause her offense.
“In our world we do not understand this code of easy virtue,” announces her haughty Mother-in-Law. “In your world you understand very little of anything, Mrs. Whittaker,” Larita responds. Zing!
“Have you had as many lovers as they say?” “Of course not. Hardly any of them actually loved me.” Zing zing!
This final act houses the Coward-esque witticisms so absent from the rest of the film. It also ends on a sombre note which serves as a sympathetic and thought-provoking commentary on the 1920s equivalent to slut-shaming. But it’s too little too late. We have to sit through sixty minutes of very little happening before we get to anything interesting. The final result is a film that feels much longer than it actually is. Never a good sign.