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A Good Woman (PG)



Review by: Jack Foley | Rating: One

DVD SPECIAL FEATURES: None listed as yet

THE stunning scenery of Italy's Amalfi Coast provides a lavish backdrop for this star-studded re-telling of Oscar Wilde's Lady Windermere's Fan, but while the use of location looks warm and vibrant, the film itself may well leave audiences feeling a little cold.

The film is set in the 1930s as a young couple's marriage is put in jeopardy by high-society gossip and the seductive manipulations of an older woman of ill repute.

Helen Hunt portrays the older woman in question, Mrs Erlynne, a glamorous, middle-aged socialite whose reputation for preying on wealthy men has forced her to flee New York to escape her mounting debt.

Upon arriving in Italy, however, she immediately sets tongues wagging by befriending the young, good-looking newly-wed, Robert Windermere (Mark Umbers), who is quickly suspected of providing her with a secret allowance.

The subsequent gossip eventually has serious implications for his marriage to Meg (Scarlett Johansson), who has, herself, begun to attract the attentions of the notorious playboy, Lord Darlington (Stephen Campbell Moore).

Yet while Robert tries desperately to avoid any scandal, Mrs Erlynne continues to attract the attention of the coastal community's men, including the wealthy Lord Augustus (Tom Wilkinson), who soon proposes marriage.

Events come to a head at Meg's 21st birthday party, when the truth behind each character's motivations finally emerges and some dark family secrets are revealed.

A Good Woman is a curious film in that it continually stifles the promise shown by its premise and cast.

Director, Mike Barker, seems content to tone down the provocative nature of Wilde's original work to keep things safe and family-friendly, thereby sacrificing much of its impact for contemporary audiences.

He claims that by updating the setting to 1930s Italy and by turning several key characters into Americans he has helped to give the story more immediacy, making it more approachable and relevant.

But by opting to work within the confines of a PG certificate, he removes almost all of the sexual spark between characters who subsequently appear dull and frustrated.

As a result, several of the cast appear to be struggling to generate any chemistry, with Johansson and Umbers, in particular, providing a dull presence.

Hunt, too, isn't allowed enough screen-time to suggest why her character might be so alluring, while Moore's ladies' man lacks the necessary charisma to make the right sort of impact.

Too often, the film feels overly polite and suggested, only really tapping into the barbed wit of Wilde's original work during the odd throw-away line that makes some astute observations about marriage and the difference between the sexes.

It is during such moments that Wilkinson emerges as the film's biggest asset, tossing around glib one-liners with carefree abandon and providing audiences with a character to genuinely care for.

Sadly, his good work is not enough to rescue the rest of proceedings, which all too frequently disappoint rather than inspire.

Had the film taken a few more of the risks that Wilkinson's character talks about when wooing Mrs Erlynne it might have seemed a little more enticing; as it stands, A Good Woman simply isn't good enough to be worth recommending.

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