A lighthearted adaptation of a Noel Coward play set in the late 1920s, Easy Virtue
stars Jessica Biel as Larita, an adventurous American who marries John, the naive, British heir (Ben Barnes) to a crumbling family estate. Whisked into the less-than-receptive bosom of John's kin, Larita soon finds herself drawing the scorn of her mother-in-law (Kristin Scott Thomas), who would have preferred John marry a longtime sweetheart from his own genteel community rather than a brash Yankee. Eager to move to London, Larita knows the longer a post-honeymoon John visits his family the harder it will be for the newlyweds to live on their own terms, and she's right. Giving up on any notion of fitting in, Larita suffers a few embarrassments before fighting back. But nothing can help her once a past scandal encroaches on her dream of happiness.
Co-writer and director Stephan Elliott (The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert
) keeps everything breezy and fun, though the clashes between Larita and her malicious mother-in-law are keenly felt. Elliott's period sensibility is very strong, not least of all his appreciation of John's father (Colin Firth), a restless intellectual and member of the so-called Lost Generation of World War I veterans. Firth's performance as a man distanced from his family's preoccupations and material woes is a real highlight of Easy Virtue
. When he dances a tango, late in the story, one can see years of repressed desire erupt in him. --Tom Keogh