Much to our Editor’s disappointment Blithe Spirit was not something he could find in the optics behind The Nag’s Head bar but instead is the latest screen adaptation of Noel Coward’s stage play.
Set in England 1937 Charles Condomine (Dan Stevens) is a widowed writer but now married to Ruth (Isla Fisher) and sitting in his office driving himself nuts with writers block unable to even begin the task of writing the screenplay for his father in law, a studio head who is growing ever more impatient for the script. For inspiration he and Ruth, along with their friends Dr Bradman and his wife Violet go along to the theatre to see a show by the inevitably fraudulent mystic (is there any other type?) Madame Arcati (Judi Dench). With the show ending in disaster Charles coaxes her to conduct a séance at his home in the presence of his wife and friends which again ends in disaster with the mental mystic being derided in her failure to raise the dead – something our Editor’s wife tries most Saturday mornings when he’s come home after a skin full the previous night.
But, like a politicians promises, all is not what it seems when Charles finds the spirit of his late wife Elvira (Leslie Mann in a role far removed from her more wholesome mumsy roles) has been raised from the dead unaware that her headstrong behaviour led to her own death at a sports event. Elvira, mistress of the dark, is not quite the campy cult big boobed horror icon but a strident blonde and now vengeful wife appalled that Charles has remarried and determines to instigate an affair with her husband, a physical impossibility and as likely to happen as playing billiards with a length of rope, an analogy also used to describe Charles bedroom prowess with Ruth.
Much of the humour here is derived from Charles being the only person able to see Elvira so when he has an argument with her, his vitriol appears to be at others in his company. And it’s Elvira who sets about causing problems sometimes with fatal consequences because though it turns out that Charles’ writers block it is solely due to it being Elvira who was the one with the actual literary talent and now in the afterlife she literally ghost writes his screenplay. So with a love triangle growing increasingly tangled Madame Arcati is required to send Elvira back to whence she came.
This is the first feature film of Edward Hall son of theatrical giant Sir Peter Hall and has opened it out with much of the film set in an immense and absolutely stunning art deco house and its grounds so big that it has a cottage which Charles uses as his office – he may well have writers block but not so that it prevents him from buying a stunning house. Blithe Spirit has become a bit of a staple with at least five TV versions and two film versions – the last one being in 2008 with Eastenders actress Natalie Cassidy – but this latest version takes a few liberties notably the inclusion of a feminist slant throwing in non Noel Coward lines such as, ‘I’m a woman. I’m going to get the credit I deserve’ and there’s an ending that sits uneasily with the squabbling wives that have come before.
It’s a playful enough adaptation with Dan Stevens proving his worth as a comic actor and Judi Dench’s role expanded because well, why not? It is Judi Dench after all! Nicely photographed with good production values Blithe Spirit is a decent enough if ultimately disposable film .
Here’s the Blithe Spirit trailer…….