★★★★ - STUFF
- Dan Stevens evokes the Spirit of Noel in brilliant Blithe -
If you enjoy a well-executed and acted broad comedy, then this will be just the tonic you need to put you in the holiday spirit.
For almost 80 years, Noel Coward’s supernatural souffle of a conceit, Blithe Spirit, has been entertaining audiences, both on stage and screen, and director Edward Hall’s (Downton Abbey, The Durrells) latest adaptation certainly doesn’t stint on spectacle or silliness.
As with the 1941 stage play and Coward’s own initial 1945 cinematic version, it’s the story of acclaimed writer Charles Condomine (Dan Stevens). While his Detective Frank Flowers novels have been a huge, award-winning success, he’s been lately plagued by writer’s block.
Commissioned by his father-in-law to transform one of his stories into a 90-page screenplay, Charles has struggled for inspiration, much to the frustration of his beloved Ruth (Isla Fisher). While she’s advised by her tennis partner to find “someone else to shake her sheets” in order for their marriage to last, Charles confesses that “Big Ben has stopped chiming” because of his other worries.
Desperate for any kind of remedy, a trip to the theatre gives him an idea. Despite watching medium Madame Arcati’s (Judi Dench) act go awry, Charles is convinced her nightly “transcendent miracles” of communicating with the other side has exciting dramatic potential.
However, his private seance with invited guests doesn’t exactly go as planned. At first, it seems like an unexpected power surge has simply taken out the lights. But when Charles’ first wife Elvira (Lesley Mann) begins haunting his every waking moment, despite having died seven years ago, it’s clear Madame Arcati has managed to make contact.
Initially struggling to fight off her attentions and others questioning his sanity, Charles eventually sees the benefits of having his “Manhattan muse” back in his life, especially when, with her assistance, the words begin to flow once more. She, though, isn’t exactly happy that Charles has moved on and isn’t afraid to cause a few ructions (or accidents) to ensure she has him all to herself.
Featuring exquisite production design, gorgeous costumes and a welcome lightness-of-touch, this Spirit’s story flies by, engaging at every twist and turn. Fans of farce are well catered for, while Hall and the trio of screenwriters (whose previous credits include senior-cinemagoer crowdpleasers Fishermen’s Friends and Finding Your Feet) smartly ensure it never quite tips over into simply a series of escalatingly nutty set pieces.
That’s also testament to three terrific performances (Denchophiles be warned – Dame Judi isn’t one of them and is essentially peripheral presence). Mann (Blockers, This is 40) delivers a livewire turn as the jealous spectre, Fisher (Now You See Me, Tag) is a hoot as Charles’ long-suffering second-wife and Stevens is a revelation as the feckless, fickle author. Known for his more serious roles in The Guest and Beauty and the Beast, between this and Will Ferrell’s Eurovision, the 38-year-old has, this year, more than cemented a new reputation for comedic ability.
Throw in a terrific Hollywood-set coda, some deliciously witty bon mots and a couple of clever twists and the result is a richly rewarding, relaxing romp.
- James Croot, STUFF
Blithe Spirit opens Boxing Day at Light House Cinema (with previews on 18-20 Dec)