February 19, 2021 Blithe Spirit (Movie Review)
Dan Stevens has quite a conundrum on his hands in Blithe Spirit, which arrives in select theaters, as well as to Digital and On Demand, beginning Friday, February 19, 2021 thanks to IFC Films.
The British Supernatural Comedy features a truly exceptional cast that includes Stevens (Downton Abbey series, Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga 2020), Leslie Mann (This Is 40 2012, The Other Woman 2014), Isla Fisher (Definitely, Maybe 2008, Confessions of a Shopaholic 2009), and Dame Judi Dench (Notes on a Scandal 2006, Skyfall 2012).
Based on the play by Noël Coward, which has been staged countless times since its 1941 debut—and has also inspired a multitude of film adaptations—Blithe Spirit was written by Piers Ashworth (St. Trinian’s 2007, Fisherman’s Friends 2019), Meg Leonard (Finding Your Feet 2017, Fisherman’s Friends 2019), and Nick Moorcroft (Urban Hymn 2015, The Corrupted 2019). A feature debut for extraordinary Director Edward Hall (MI-5 series, Downton Abbey series), the film asks one very important question: Is it cheating if the other woman is your previously deceased first wife?
Set in 1937, Blithe Spirit is the story of Charles Condomine (Stevens), a best-selling Crime Fiction novelist who is suffering from writer’s block—and an inability to launch his SpaceX rocket, ahem. Commissioned to adapt one of his published works for the silver screen, he is growing increasingly desperate thanks to the pressure from his prim and proper wife Ruth (Fisher), who is dreaming of experiencing the glitz and glam of Hollywood.
Desperate to find his muse, Charles invites the world-renowned spiritualist Madame Arcati (Dench) to perform a séance in his home. Though when the eccentric mystic unintentionally summons the spirit of his first wife, the firecracker Elvira (Mann), his life will take a dramatic and hilariously comedic shift. If hell hath no fury like a woman scorned—What about two?
At 99 minutes, Blithe Spirit is a delight. From its stylish costume design and chic hair and makeup to its divine Jazz Age score and creative camera work, this is an artful treat for the senses. With its distinctly British sense of humor, the film’s wit is often found in its flawless timing, from quirky transitions packed with double entendre to Stevens chasing thin air with a croquet mallet. With echoes of 2013’s The Great Gatsby and 1992’s Death Becomes Her, 2021’s take on Blithe Spirit is a debonair take on humor.
It would be hard not to credit much of the film’s brilliance to its stellar ensemble cast. In the lead, and carrying much of the story on his shoulders, Stevens is Oscar-worthy. From his ability to capture the frustration of writer’s block and relay this special form of insanity to an audience, to his willingness to chew on paper and run around like a madman for the sake of comedy, the former Downton Abbey star delivers nothing less than perfection.
But his female counterparts will not be so easily outdone. Fisher’s Ruth and Mann’s Elvira are opposites that attract, and each is determined to be the last woman standing. Part Agatha Christie, part alluring siren, Elvira is the fiery ghost writer who is happy to face off against the spoiled yet bubbly housewife Ruth. Within these roles each actress shines, though it would be easy to see Fisher tackling the role of Elvira and Mann taking on Ruth. Which, we suppose, is the point: no matter how different they might initially appear, the talented actresses’ characters have plenty in common.
Which is certainly not to overlook the dame: Dench, of course, is magical, as always, while she toes the line between grace and absurdity as Madame Arcati. And though they are given significantly less screen-time than their co-stars, Aimee-Ffion Edwards (Peaky Blinders series, 101 Dalmation Street series) and Michele Dotrice (Not Now, Comrade 1976, Vanity Fair mini-series) are splendid in their roles as the Condomine’s staff: Edith the maid and Edna the cook. Edwards, particularly, offers up some truly amusing responses to the onscreen action, her facial expressions offering a myriad of silent quips.
Honestly, there is no aspect of Blithe Spirit that has been overlooked. From its use of Irving Berlin’s “Always” to its soundtrack (out now on Decca Records) to luscious floral arrangements that bring joy to the screen, this is a film that looks and sounds exquisite. Sure, it’s clear that there was a massive budget behind the production, but that money has translated into a visual feast that suits the material. Luxurious, hilarious, and exactly the smile that the world needs right now, Cryptic Rock gives Blithe Spirit 5 of 5 stars.