We are in the late 1920s, and to the family manor comes Ben Barnes, in the company of new wife, Jessica Biel. That this woman is both American and a race car champion does not sit well with the very conservative mother Kristin Scott Thomas. That her nose is out of joint delights husband Colin Firth, a veteran of the Great War who, thoroughly world-weary and disillusioned with just about everything, wants nothing to do with the petty concerns and squabbles of his family. What follows is a clash of cultures and generations, veering between slapstick comedy and something rather darker.
I know you’ve all been waiting to see Jessica Biel finally star in a film whose script is based on a Noel Coward play, which was first adapted in 1928 by Alfred Hitchcock. All kidding aside, Biel acquits herself well, despite occasionally displaying some rather anachronistically defined pecs. The other cast members aren’t having to strain themselves too much — Scott Thomas has played repressed ice queens before, and Firth pretty much phones in his trademarked display of amused contempt — but they are never less than efficient in their portrayals. That said, Scott Thomas and the performers playing her daughters have a tendency to project to the back of the hall, and otherwise remind us a bit too forcefully that this material was originally a play. The film is far from the jaunty comedy of mores that the case suggests — it is rather too dark for that, by the end. It is an enjoyable, though finally slight, bit of entertainment.
This is a sharp, fine-looking period piece. The colours are strong, warm and a pleasure to look at, while remaining in a realist register. Grain and edge enhancement do not declare themselves. The original aspect ratio of 2.35:1 is preserved. All told, the theatrical experience is pretty thoroughly replicated here.
The music is certainly strong, but I wonder if a bit too much attention was paid to its mix at the expense of the dialogue. This last sometimes comes across as a bit muddy and hard to make out, which is a bit of a problem in a film that is, when all is said and done, driven by its dialogue. The environmental effects are subtle, but nicely placed.
Commentary Track: Director Stephan Elliott and writer Sheridan Jobbins take us through the making of the film, and the challenges Elliott threw Jobbins’ way, which took the form of updating Coward while still remaining true to the spirit of his style. Our hosts are witty and informed, making for a lively track.
New York Premiere Featurette: (6:11) This fulfills the function of the usual making-of promo piece, only this time having the participants on a red carpet.
Deleted Scenes. Four of them.
Blooper Reel. (8:45)
Other than the commentary, the extras are forgettable, but the film is certainly worth a rental.