Quick! Noël Coward—sage or supercilious bitch? No matter where you stand, Stephan Elliott's deliciously cheeky screen adaptation of one of the satirist's lesser-known jabs at the British upper crust will charm your pants off. The movie opens with a contemporary rendition of Coward's "Mad About the Boy," impressively sung by Jessica Biel, her customary luminous self as a Roaring-'20s American race-car driver who marries into British aristocracy and finds herself on the losing end of a war of words with the groom's mother (Kristin Scott Thomas). Though Elliott, director of The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert, gussies up the action with clever and lyrical visuals, words are what count in this scantily plotted piece (hard to believe that Hitchcock made a silent version in 1928), a light variant on Oscar Wilde's Lady Windermere's Fan with the same libertarian message that the morally compromised inherit the earth while the self-righteous wither on the vine. A uniformly great cast (Kris Marshall is a scream as the eye-rolling butler) is upstaged by a hilariously WASPish Thomas, who strides away with the movie wearing sensible cardies, QE II hair, and all the best lines as Mummy Dearest, with Colin Firth modestly bringing up the rear as her war-ruined lush of a husband. Easy Virtue may seem like little more than a big fat mother-in-law joke, but Elliott pointedly recasts it as a nail in the coffin of an increasingly irrelevant gentry.
Surprise! Biel makes an effective flapper.
Opens at Metro and Big Picture Redmond, Fri., June 19. Rated PG-13. 93 minutes.