Scott Thomas, Biel, Firth Star in "Easy Virtue," Inspired by Coward, in Theatres May 22

News   Scott Thomas, Biel, Firth Star in "Easy Virtue," Inspired by Coward, in Theatres May 22 "Easy Virtue," Australian director and co-screenwriter Stephan Elliott's film version of the 1924 Noel Coward play about an English family turned upside down when a son falls for an American woman, gets a limited U.S. release — in Los Angeles and New York City — starting May 22.
"Easy Virtue" stars Jessica Biel and Colin Firth
"Easy Virtue" stars Jessica Biel and Colin Firth Photo by Giles Keyte

With a screenplay by Elliott ("The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert") and Sheridan Jobbins, the movie from Sony Pictures Classics stars Jessica Biel as the new wife, Colin Firth as the patriarch, Kristin Scott Thomas (Broadway's The Seagull) as the matriarch, Ben Barnes as the son, with Kris Marshall, Kimberley Nixon, Katherine Parkinson, Pip Torrens, Christian Brassington and Charlotte Riley.

According to Sony production notes, "The '20s have roared…the '30s have yet to swing. John Whittaker (played by Barnes), a young Englishman, falls madly in love with Larita (Biel), a sexy and glamorous American woman, and they marry impetuously. However when the couple returns to the family home (headed by the war-weary father, played by Firth), his mother Mrs. Whittaker (Scott Thomas) has an instant allergic reaction to her new daughter-in&-law. Larita tries her best to fit in but fails to tiptoe through the minefield laid by her mother-in-law. Larita quickly realizes Mrs. Whittaker's game and sees that she must fight back if she's not going to lose John."

"Easy Virtue" was shot entirely on location in the U.K. in 2008 in stately homes including Flintham Hall in Nottingham, Englefield House, near Reading in Berkshire, and Wimpole Hall in Cambridgeshire.

Noel Coward wrote Easy Virtue, the play, in 1924 when he was 23. It is one of his least-known works. Alfred Hitchcock produced a silent film version of the play in 1928.

Coward's better known plays include Hay Fever, Private Lives, Present Laughter, Design for Living and Blithe Spirit, among many others. "Obviously none of the wit of Coward's dialogue could come through in the silent version," producer Joe Abrams said in production notes for the new film, "so Hitchcock had to emphasize the drama of the social conflict between the new and the old worlds of 1920s England. For 'Easy Virtue' today, the challenges and opportunities were not just to keep the conflict, but in the spirit of Coward, to build on it with comedy."

"We didn't want to make a period film," director Elliott said in notes, "we wanted to make a modern film for modern audiences so we tried to give it a really contemporary voice, then the actors came along and immediately went into Coward mode. And I had to ask them to talk to me as they would normally, so we did eventually find a common voice. Also we have gone completely mad on the music, and we are doing some really extraordinary special effects which we are not used to seeing in a period film."

Expect period songs to punctuate the movie.

"Musically we are taking a gamble," Elliott stated. "I have never done this before; I am used to scoring a film, and when something sad happens you put some sad music on, for a happy scene you put happy music on...We have recorded all these songs, and sometimes they will come from an old gramophone, and then they will explode into big 5.1 stereo. Finally I decided we had to take one or two gambles, so we are going to record a handful of very contemporary tracks, and re-record them as period. Marius de Vries is our composer, and he did 'Moulin Rouge' so there is a taste of that, but we are taking it one step further."

Composer de Vries stated, "Between Stephan and me, we made a fairly early decision to avoid almost entirely conventional underscore techniques so there isn't a pretty period piece score underneath it. Almost without exception it's all scored with songs of the period, or songs that sound as if they come from the period, so to build the musical narrative entirely out of songs is a fresh approach. And allowing the natural liveliness and exuberance of the jazz of the '20s to speak through, and to translate that energy into something that is palpable for a modern audience, without pandering to what might be a superficial need for more contemporary musical signposts."

The "Easy Virtue" production team includes costume designer Charlotte Walter, make-up and hair designer Jeremy Woodhead, production designer John Beard, cinematographer Martin Kenzie and composer Marius de Vries.

Kimberley Nixon, Kristin Scott Thomas and Charlotte Riley in "Easy Virtue"
Kimberley Nixon, Kristin Scott Thomas and Charlotte Riley in "Easy Virtue" Photo by Giles Keyte
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