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Film / Bright Young Things

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"God gave you two legs and an immortal soul in the capital city of the largest empire the world has ever seen. Are you going to spend it sucking up cocktails?"
Lord Monomark

Bright Young Things is a 2003 British period comedy-drama film written and directed by Stephen Fry. The screenplay was based on the 1930 novel Vile Bodies by Evelyn Waugh, which was in turn loosely based on and satirized the aristocratic and bohemian society members known as the "bright young people".

The film follows aspiring author Adam Fenwick-Symes and his fiancee Nina Blount. His novel Bright Young Things is withheld at customs for being too racy, and he finds himself in a precarious financial situation and fearing he will be unable to marry. Meanwhile, he and Nina live life as part of a young and decadent crowd who indulge in partying, alcohol, cocaine and gossip. However, things are not as carefree as they may seem at first.

The film's heavyweight Ensemble Cast includes James McAvoy, Michael Sheen, Emily Mortimer, Stockard Channing, Dan Aykroyd, David Tennant, Jim Broadbent, Peter O'Toole, Imelda Staunton, and Richard E. Grant. Fry and Mark Gatiss appear in cameos.

Bright Young Things contains examples of:

  • Adaptational Heroism: While perhaps not the most pleasant of people, Margot Maitland is a much better person than her book counterpart, since there's no mention of her engaging in human trafficking.
  • The Alcoholic: Several, but especially the Drunk Major and Agatha, both of whom are rarely seen sober or without a drink readily on hand.
  • Black Comedy: Less so than the book, but the film does still have this air.
  • Camp Gay: Miles.
  • Death by Adaptation: The Drunk Major. Also possibly Miles given the fact that he's a Camp Gay man who flees to France just at the onset of the Second World War.
  • Disproportionate Retribution: Two prominent examples:
    • Simon writes a defamatory and libelous article concerning most of his friends before committing suicide as retribution for them being unable or unwilling to get him into a party. Somewhat subverted in that it doesn't seem to cause any of them too much grief.
    • Tiger reveals concrete evidence of Miles' homosexuality (at a time when it was illegal in the UK) which forces him to flee to France as retribution for Miles not appearing concerned that Agatha had taken Tiger's racing car.
  • Driven to Suicide: Gossip columnist and former 'Mr Chatterbox' Simon Balcairn puts his head in the oven after being kicked out of the society ball of the season and calling in a libelous article about what debauchery had taken place there.
  • Drunk Driver: Agatha, who drives off with Tiger's racecar while intoxicated on Dom Perignon and cocaine.
  • Genteel Interbellum Setting
  • Gold Digger: Adam's impression of Nina when she chooses to marry an extremely wealthy 'old friend'.
  • Idle Rich: Many of the bright young people, but especially Agatha Runcible and Miles Maitland.
  • No Celebrities Were Harmed: As the novel on which the film is based was satirizing a real social group, many of the 'bright young people' are based on the real life bright young things. For example, Miles is loosely based on infamous gay socialite Stephen Tennant, while Simon "Mr Chatterbox" Balcairn is based on gossip writer Patrick "Mr Gossip" Balfour.
  • Run for the Border: The final situation for Miles, who flees for France after discovering a warrant out for (presumably) homosexuality, and Ginger, who flees to America after facing smuggling charges.
  • Ruritania: One of the perpetual residents at Adam's hotel is the former King of Anatolia, who seems more upset about his pilfered gold pen than the fact that he is living in a London hotel.
  • Snowball Lie: When Adam takes over as gossip columnist, he invents a scandalous lesbian socialite named Imogen Quest, and a sinister Count Zelldorf. Suddenly half the crowd claim to be Imogen's best friend, but his boss becomes suspicious that he can't verify.
  • Spared by the Adaptation: Agatha, who winds up being committed to a mental institution but very much alive.
  • Tabloid Melodrama: Most of the main characters are unduly preoccupied with what the paper says about them, but never more so than when Simon writes a libelous 'tell all' about an orgy at Lady Maitland's ball.