Review by Jack Foley
DVD SPECIAL FEATURES: Making of Documentary; Director’s Commentary; Photo Gallery; Deleted Scenes; Outtakes; Jessica Biel Music Video.
TO BE perfectly blunt, Stephan Elliott’s star-studded take on one of Noel Coward’s most celebrated social comedies doesn’t contain many virtues and is far from easy viewing!
Rather, it continues to suffer from the usual restrictions of period drama, fails to make the most of its diverse cast and is far too mean-spirited to really make that all-important emotional connection.
It’s the roaring ’20s and following a trip to France, young John Whittaker (Ben Barnes) returns to his family’s stately mansion with an American wife (Jessica Biel) in tow.
Far from embracing the new addition to the family, however, John’s protective mother Veronica (Kristin Scott Thomas) vows to get rid of her, while John’s two sisters also take a dislike. Only Veronica’s husband (Colin Firth) seems to take the time to get to know more about her… but even he can’t prevent a war breaking out between the women.
The most disappointing thing about Elliott’s film, however, is the way that it consistently squanders so much of its potential. Where Coward’s source text took gleeful aim at the stifled upper class and succeeded in landing some highly amusing shots, Elliott leaves audiences confused or indifferent as to which side is really worth rooting for.
Biel’s character, in particular, feels like she should warrant a lot more sympathy for her plight but constantly feels like she’s trying too hard and comes over a little too cocky, brash and, well, American. Thomas, on the other hand, is in confident, if over-familiar territory as the snobbish matriarch but is never really stretched beyond her comfort zone (unlike her most recent performance in I’ve Loved You So Long).
Barnes, meanwhile, is more insipid than loveable, while Firth trots out yet another of his glib (yet still endearing) gentrified Englishmen. It’s a measure of the film’s failings that it could have benefited from a few more scenes with him in.
On the plus side, the costumes look great (particularly on Biel) and there are some nice one-liners but attempts to modernise the screenplay by dropping in songs such as Sex Bomb in a Mad Dogs And Englishmen style merely add to the inescapable feeling that this is very much a flawed affair. Coupled with its mean-spirited nature, it’s likely to leave you feeling decidedly cold afterwards… not to mention glad when it’s over.
Running time: 97mins
UK DVD Release: March 16, 2009