(out of 5)
Brash, modern America meets reserved, stately England in a culture-clash comedy adapted from the play of the same name by Noel Coward. Young and princely Ben Barnes finally returns to the aristocratic homestead of his birth to the delight of his overly involved mother (Kristin Scott Thomas), two quirky sisters and burned out father (Colin Firth). What they discover upon his coming home is that he has gotten married to an American race car driver (Jessica Biel) whose very existence is enough to scandalize their quiet, unfettered life. The young man’s mother and wife battle for cultural superiority, the one advocating tradition and the other reform, the whole time exchanging the witty bon mots that are characteristic of Coward’s wonderful writing and tearing each other to shreds while barely raising an eyebrow. Such a perfect setup should make for a comedy classic except for a few glaring faults: Biel isn’t quite up to the role, all poise and confidence but unfortunately no gravity (which is a shame given how stunning she is) and Scott Thomas easily bests her in every possible way: her raised eyebrows reveal less strain but cut so much deeper as a result. Meanwhile, Stephan Elliot’s direction hasn’t a single whit of tension to it; as delighted as he is by Coward’s writing, he cannot manage to give it any sense of pace or focus, and were it not for the cast and the handful of funny moments thanks to such marvelous source material, it would be a total washout.
Directed by Stephan Elliott
Cinematography by Martin Kenzie
Music by Marius De Vries
Production Design by John Beard
Costume Design by Charlotte Walter
Film Editing by Sue Blainey