Follow TV Tropes


Film / Easy Virtue

Go To

"Oh Johnny, dear, you know how much I love you, so please try to take this in the best possible light: I'm getting a machine gun and mowing down your entire family."

Not long after World War I, the Whittaker family awaits the return of their only son John from the continent. To their dismay, he brings a bride; a glamourous American racecar driver. The bride, Larita, thinks she and John will visit and then move to London, where he'll work and she'll race. But John is the heir to the estate, and his mother, Veronica, is nothing if not a master manipulator. Soon it's all-out war between mother and bride. John's father, Major Jim Whittaker, finds himself in the bride's corner, along with the family servants; John's sisters, Hilda and Marion, side firmly with their mother, while their neighbours, the wealthy Hurst family, look on.

Easy Virtue was originally a play by Noël Coward, but has been adapted twice; first as a silent film in 1928, directed by Alfred Hitchcock, and again in 2008, directed by Stephan Elliot. The 2008 version is the best known, and starred Jessica Biel, Ben Barnes, Colin Firth, and Kristin Scott Thomas.

The 2008 film contains examples of:

  • Alcoholic Parent: Jim is rarely seen without a scotch in his hand.
  • All Love Is Unrequited: Hilda for Phillip. Phillip for Larita. Marion for Edgar, but only because her mother wants it.
    John: Poor old Marion. Edgar drops by for a cup of sugar, and Mother has his name engraved on the family crypt.
  • Arranged Marriage: Sarah and John were supposed to marry, but John ran away and married Larita; she's a little annoyed, but not particularly torn up, and becomes friends with Larita. Marion is supposed to marry Edgar, who fled as soon as he could, and Veronica wants Hilda to marry Phillip, but he doesn't take the arrangement very seriously.
  • The Atoner: Larita's grief for her first husband and relationship with John comes across like this, despite her first husband dying of cancer. Later it's revealed that he suicided, and she was charged with (and acquitted of) murder, and things make a lot more sense. Played completely straight at the end of the play, where it's revealed she really did kill her husband at his request.
  • Beneath the Mask: Every single character has put up a facade, with the possible exception of Phillip Hurst.
  • Beware the Quiet Ones: Outside of a few conversational scenes, Jim is a silent background figure with a snarky one-liner here and there. The one time he raises his voice sends the whole family running.
  • Bilingual Bonus: Larita and Jim are both fluent in French.
  • Bratty Teenage Daughter: Hilda and Marion break into histrionics at the drop of a hat.
  • Break the Cutie: Attempted by Veronica on Larita, with mixed success; Larita is just as stubborn as she is, but her efforts do take their toll.
    Larita: Welcome to the petrified circus. Meet the resident contortionist who can't bend any further.
  • Broken Bird: Larita still grieves for her first husband. Veronica has been worn down by John's absence.
  • Calling the Old Man Out: Subverted; Veronica calls her son out for shirking his responsibilities.
  • Conflicting Loyalty: John is torn between his family and his wife.
    Larita: You threw me to the wolves in there.
    John: Come now, Marion hardly constitutes wolves.
    Larita: Alright, you threw me to the voles. Either way you abandoned me.
  • Cool Big Sis: Larita tries to take on this role for Hilda, but accidentally causes her public humiliation.
  • Dance of Romance: John and Larita are seen having one during the opening credits. There's also the tango at the Christmas party. Larita was trying to engineer one with John to repair their relationship, but when he turned her down Jim danced with her instead, and it ended up being a Dance of Romance for them. Verging on a Mating Dance, with the way they present it.
  • Dark and Troubled Past: Veronica is utterly convinced Larita has one, above and beyond the scandal of a widow marrying a much younger man. She's right.
  • Deadpan Snarker: Several, but most notably Jim, Furber, and Larita herself.
  • Dead Pet Sketch: Larita accidentally takes out the family dog by sitting on him with her impressive rear end. Since she is played by the pneumatic Jessica Biel, the poor lap dog never stood a chance!
  • Despair Event Horizon: Larita crosses this when John flips out over the circumstances of her first husband's death and ends up hiding away, crying and incoherent.
    Larita: You should have loved me more.
    John: Larita, I couldn't love you any more.
    Larita: You should have loved me better...
  • Driven to Suicide: Larita's first husband had terminal cancer, and chose to kill himself rather than die slowly and painfully. Larita was charged with his murder and acquitted. This revelation is a huge scandal to the Whittakers; it gets worse when she later reveals she did kill him, at his request, because he was too feeble to do it himself.
  • Everyone Has Standards: Even Larita is shocked when Hilda decides to go commando for the can-can performance.
  • Evil Matriarch: Larita thinks Veronica is this, but it turns out this is just what happens when you get on the wrong side of a Mama Bear.
  • Exact Words: Invoked by Larita when Veronica demands she ride in the foxhunt. She does ride, but on Jim's motorcycle instead of a horse. She also deliberately lures the dogs away from the fox.
  • Genteel Interbellum Setting: Throwaway comments from Marion, Jim, and Hilda place the film around 1922, 1928, or 1929 respectively. It's deliberately left ambiguous.
  • Gentleman Snarker: Phillip Hurst is well-dressed and charming, but totally foppish (and managed to injure himself by failing to get out of the way of a cow he tipped.) Jim Whittaker sits around drinking scotch and being sarcastic. They, and Sarah, are the only people who treat Larita with dignity and kindness by the end of the play.
  • Girl Next Door: Sarah Hurst, though somewhat subverted in that while she has affection for John, their marriage was arranged, and she's not particularly heartbroken when he marries Larita. It's implied they end up together anyway.
    Sarah: You took the opportunity and married for love, and I respect you for it. If we'd've married, it would have been for friendship and convenience. We know each other far too well.
  • Going Commando: Larita makes a joke about the can-can being traditionally performed this way. Hilda takes it too literally and well...
    "Is your daughter dancing without her scanties?"
  • Gorgeous Period Dress: More understated than is usual, but the clothes seen at the War Widows' Revue and the Christmas party both feature some stunning post-WWI formalwear.
  • Grey-and-Gray Morality: No one is bad or good, despite how they may appear at first.
  • Hair of Gold, Heart of Gold: This is how Larita used to be; these days, she's very jaded.
  • Implied Love Interest: Larita and Jim leaving at the end could be interpreted as either romantic or platonic. Both their actors have different opinions on the matter.
  • Interrupted Intimacy: Larita and John.
    Jim: I can't decide which is worse; the idea that you had to sneak outside to get some privacy, or that you were caught by Veronica.
  • Kick the Dog: The rare comedic version; Larita accidentally kills the family's chihuahua.
  • Likes Older Women: John towards Larita. They like to tease each other about the age difference; he jokingly refers to her as "grandma." (Funnily enough, Jessica Biel is actually a few months younger than Ben Barnes in real life).
  • Love Father, Love Son: Reversed. Larita starts out married to John, and ends up running away with his father, Jim.
  • Mama Bear: Veronica seems like a total bitch, but everything she does is actually in the best interests of her children and the estate.
  • Manipulative Bastard: Veronica, yet again, but she has her family's best interests in mind.
    Sarah: (about Veronica) She's a lot like drowning. Quite pleasant, once you stop struggling.
  • Manly Men Can Hunt: Subverted; all of the Whittakers are avid hunters, with the exception of Jim, the ex-soldier family patriarch. This endears him to Larita.
  • Meaningful Appearance: Larita wears a lot of white, in contrast to the greys and browns worn by the Whittaker and Hurst families and the black worn by Jim. The most notable examples are the white dress she wears during the tango scene and the white blouse and jacket she wears while dealing with the fallout of Hilda's prying. Both indicate the fragility of her mental state but the white tango dress also indicates a new beginning for her and Jim.
  • Meaningful Rename: Played for Laughs. The cook says she always liked the name Beatrice, so Larita calls her that as an Affectionate Nickname
  • My Beloved Smother: Veronica really wants John to divorce Larita and marry Sarah Hurst. It turns out this is because the family fortune is gone and they desperately need Sarah's dowry to get them back on their feet.
  • Ms. Fanservice: Larita / Jessica Biel: She's as beautiful as ever and the filmmakers certainly don't downplay her devastatingly distracting derriere.
  • Nice Mean And In Between: The three young English women. Sarah is nice to Larita and becomes friends with her. Hilda is a brat who tries to destroy Larita over simple misunderstanding. Marion is a non-malicious but weak-willed girl easily led astray by her mother and sister.
  • Obnoxious In-Laws: Veronica, Marion, and Hilda are very much this to Larita and John, especially to Larita. They eventually succeed in destroying their marriage.
  • Officer and a Gentleman: Jim, in his youth; he and all the other men of his age signed up to fight in the war together with Jim as their Captain. They were sent to the Eastern Front, and on being sent over the top, every man aside from Jim was cut down by machine guns in the first few minutes.
  • Pretty in Mink: When Larita first arrived at the Whitaker house, she's wearing an ermine jacket. Later she dons a grey rabbit stole and muff. Veronica wears a mink stole in some scenes.
  • Really Gets Around: Larita is accused of this, and it's implied there may be some truth to it—she does leave her husband for her father-in-law, after all.
    Veronica: It is true you've had as many lovers as they say?
    Larita: Of course it's not true, Mrs Whittaker. Hardly any of them actually loved me.
  • The Roaring '20s: Larita embodies this era, which causes a lot of tension when she arrives in a quiet, conservative countryside still grieving the Great War.
  • Running Gag: Larita's hayfever; Marion finding likenesses of Edgar.
  • Servile Snarker: Oh, Furber.
    Larita: Have you been drinking, Furber?
    Furber: Yes, madam. Prodigiously.
  • Sharp-Dressed Man: Most notable at the Christmas party, where all the male characters appear in white tie.
  • She Cleans Up Nicely: Larita is already gorgeous, but when she does herself up for the party, she's spectacular. Sarah, similarly.
  • Shell-Shocked Veteran: Jim went a little bit mad after the war, and "caroused around France and Italy" before pulling himself together and wandering home. It's eventually revealed he never got over it; Veronica dragged him back to England to fulfil his familial duties.
    Jim: She thought "wandering home" sounded better. And frankly I no longer cared.
  • Sheltered Aristocrat: John is sweet and charming, but terribly naive. He gets a little tarnished once he realises exactly how deeply in trouble his family is, and loses the shine altogether when Larita's backstory is revealed.
  • Stepford Smiler: As it turns out, Veronica. Jim leaving her at the end of the play may cause her to finally snap.
  • Stiff Upper Lip: Jim and Veronica in particular, but displayed (and lampshaded) by several characters.
    Veronica: Smile, Marion.
    Marion: I don't feel like smiling.
    Jim: You're English, dear. Fake it.
  • The Stoic: Several characters adopt a stoic facade, for various reasons; Jim is perhaps the most notable.
  • Through His Stomach: Deliberately invoked by Larita, who launches a counter-attack against Veronica's machinations by taking over the kitchen and serving the family a Thanksgiving dinner:
    Larita: Here's a tip, Hilda. A sure way to a man's heart is through his stomach. Or his mother.
  • Title Drop:
    Veronica: And you can get that ghastly painting out of my house. We do not need any more reminders of your easy virtue!
  • '20s Bob Haircut: Both Sarah and Larita rock it Clara Bow style at various points.
  • Unkempt Beauty: Colin Firth's character, which comes as quite a shock considering his previous roles in Pride and Prejudice, Love Actually, Mamma Mia! and Bridget Jones.
  • Upper-Class Twit: Played straight with Hilda, who is an utter ditz; subverted with Marion, who is very aware that their family is rapidly running out of money.
  • Vague Age: Larita's age is deliberately obscured; all we know is that she's been married (and widowed) previously, and that she met John several years after these events; John is a great deal younger than her. Jessica Biel and Ben Barnes are the same age, further confusing the issue. note 
  • What the Hell, Hero?: Phillip of all people delivers one to Hilda, after she utterly destroys Larita by making her first husband's suicide public knowledge.
    Hilda: You've got me all to yourself. Larita's upstairs with a headache.
    Phillip: And which little fool gave her that?