Life & Culture

Film review: Blithe Spirit

This new version of Noel Coward's classic is flawed but there's much to love says Linda Marric


Dan Stevens, Leslie Mann, Isla Fisher and Dame Judi Dench head a stellar cast in Edward Hall's new adaptation of Noël Coward's much loved 1941 comedy play Blithe Spirit.  First adapted by David Lean in the 1940s with Rex Harrison and Margaret Ratherford in the leading roles, Blithe Spirit tells the story of a couple haunted by the ghost of the husbands’s first wife. The film was originally set to be released by Studiocanal for the big screen last year, but has now been acquired by Sky Cinema due to the ongoing Covid crisis.

Renowned crime novelist Charles Condomine (Stevens) is struggling with writers block, and with a deadline looming he must find a way to finally finish a screenplay for his film producer father-in-law’s latest production. For inspiration, Charles turns to bohemian psychic medium Madame Arcati (Dench) to arrange a séance in the home he shares with his wife Ruth (Fisher).

All hell breaks loose when the séance results in the accidental summoning of Charles’ late wife Elvira (Mann) who is furious to find out that the man she loves has already moved on and remarried. As Ruth scrambles to send her rival back to the after life with the help of the hapless Madam Arcati, Elvira has a plan of her own as she embarks on a quest to drag Charles back with her to the afterlife.

Director Edward Hall - known for his extensive TV work which includes titles such as The Durrells and Downton Abbey - presents a flawed, but engaging adaptation of Coward’s much loved play. He and writers Nick Moorcroft, Meg Leonard, and Piers Ashworth have given us a slightly dated, yet stylish screwball comedy which owes most of its charm and appeal to its stellar cast.

Elevated John Paul Kelly’s beautifully precise period production of ornate Art Deco objects and by Charlotte Walter’s impressive gloriously sumptuous costume designs, Blithe Spirit truly feels like stepping into a different era.

Stevens, who recently starred as Russian lothario Alexander Lemtov in the hilarious Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga  (Netflix) excels in yet another comedic role. He puts in a robust turn as man on the verge of a breakdown caught in a middle of deadly love triangle.

For her part, Mann is fantastic as Elvira whom she plays with great nonchalance and lightness of spirit. Elsewhere, both Fisher and Dench give two fantastic performances, respectively as the woman trying to save her marriage and the bohemian medium bewildered by her own gift.

This fairly serviceable, if slightly dated adaptation, does exactly what is expected from it even if at times it feels like it is trapped in the past. While not earth-shatteringly original, there’s no denying that this is a hugely enjoyable and beautifully acted old-fashioned farce.

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