WWI changed England forever, and for the landed, life can never be the same. When John Whittaker (Ben Barnes) returns to the family estate with a beautiful, bold, American blonde (Jessica Biel) as his wife, his matriarchal mother (Kristin Scott Thomas) turns up her oh-so-cultured nose. His father (Colin Firth), however, is intrigued, to the point that he emerges from the funk of the survivor’s guilt he’s been suffering since the Great War. What sparks his interest is the panache with which his new daughter-in-law, Larita, deals with the barrage of nasty barbs launched by his wife.
The honors in this production, based upon an early play by Noel Coward, go equally to Biel, Thomas, and Firth, each of which turns in skillful, well-modulated performances. Mention is also deserved by Kris Marshall, in the role of the butler, whose urbane, proper exterior masks a surprisingly rebellious spirit. Director Stephan Elliott provided masterly control of the visuals, using the subtle cues of clothing, furnishings, makeup, and inventive camera angles to convey what is not being said, to wit, that the estate is bankrupt. There are plenty of amusing moments in this movie to offset the theme, that of an old way of life forced to give way to the new, and struggling all the way. Pay no attention to all the critical reviews in the press, and treat yourself to a lovely afternoon watching this well-crafted a well-crafted comedy/drama with a bouncy soundtrack of updated period music. Whatever else you think of it, the tango performed by Firth and Biel is a delight not to be missed.