As I was watching this, I kept saying to myself, “This should really be good.” It’s got snappy dialogue, it recreates England in the 1920’s faithfully (at least as far as the costumes and locations are concerned), it has a beautiful star (Jessica Biel) and good actors in the other parts. But I found myself uninvolved; there is too much dialogue, and the dialogue isn’t that compelling.
Based on Noel Coward’s 1924 play (written when he was only 23) and first made into a silent film by a youthful Alfred Hitchcock, this is the first attempt to bring it to the screen since Alfred’s version in 1928.
I saw Coward’s “Private Lives” with Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton at the Wilshire Theater a couple of decades ago, and was mesmerized, but I’m sure the acting had a lot to do with my enjoyment. (At one point, Taylor is lying on a chaise lounge and Burton is sitting next to her, talking. At the time of the play, they were not married in real life. During the conversation, he casually put his hand on her breast while they continued talking about something entirely unrelated to sex. It brought down the house.)
Unfortunately, this really isn’t a comedy. John Whittaker (Ben Barnes) brings his new bride, Larita (Biel) home to the family palatial home, and his mother (Kristin Scott Thomas) and father (Colin Firth). Mother takes an instant dislike to Larita, as does the rest of the family, except for Mr. Whittaker, who is suffering pangs of guilt because of what happened to him in the Great War.
The family is hateful to Larita, but she perseveres, mostly with tart dialogue. She is nothing if not a trooper. But the thing goes on and on. It seemed much longer than 93 minutes. One admires Larita for hanging in there but wishes that she’d get on with it, with this dysfunctional family.
As to the performances, they are all pretty good. Firth stands out from the others. Biel is not bad but I felt that there was something missing in her interpretation, like normal human feeling. She was just too self-possessed in an extremely awkward and uncomfortable situation.
The best way I can summarize this is disappointing.