Puja Miri Yajnik
‘Blithe Spirit’ is a British supernatural comedy film, directed by Edward Hall and released in 2020. It is produced by Nick Moorcroft, Meg Leonard, Hilary Bevan Jones, Peter Snell and James Spring. It stars Dan Stevens, Leslie Mann, Isla Fisher and Judi Dench. The film is an adaptation of a play of the same name, written by Noël Coward. Coward was a brilliant and stylish English playwright, composer, singer, actor and director. This play was first seen in the West End in 1941, going on to Broadway, and was later adapted for film in 1945.
Dan Stevens plays the socialite and novelist, Charles Condomine. He invites the eccentric, slightly comical medium, Madam Arcati, played by Judi Dench, to his house to conduct a séance. He does this in a sceptical and perhaps farcical spirit to gather material for his new book. Things take a different turn when Madam Arcati inadvertently summons Charles’s first wife, who has been dead for seven years. What follows is a hilarious interaction between the principal characters; that is, Charles, his first wife Elvira, his second wife Ruth and Madam Arcati.
Dan Stevens delivers a charming and competent performance as Charles, who is caught between his two wives. It must have been difficult to live up to the expectations set by Rex Harrison, who played the role in the 1945 film. Harrison gave a phenomenal performance, and it is best to not compare the two. Stevens has delivered his own unique interpretation, depicting a much more insecure and bumbling version of Charles Condomine. In my opinion, the 1945 version created a more authentic atmosphere and stayed closer to the original story and interpretation. The conventional English village, as it was in the 1930s, the local doctor and his wife, the housekeeper and maid seemed more realistic and therefore more effective. Margaret Rutherford’s Madam Arcati in the 1945 film is absolutely stunning; Judi Dench here does not fail to impress as always, giving a more modern, theatrical interpretation of the overly-enthusiastic medium.
The 2020 version is a more glamorous interpretation, with a significant amount of reworking of the original play. Quite a few (unnecessary) changes have been made, although the essential plot is the same. Kay Hammond and Constance Cummings were brilliant as the two quarrelling wives in the older version. Kay, who was the original Elvira on stage, portrayed the appealingly mischievous, unconventional and moody ghost perfectly. Her character is central to the play and I feel that the 2020 version fell short of capturing the ethereal charm of this character. Leslie Mann and Isla Fisher deliver competent performances as Elvira and Ruth, however several scenes come across as a bit stilted and awkward rather than breezy and witty, as was Noël Coward’s signature.
All in all, the film is an interesting and fun watch for people who enjoy unconventional comedies and plot lines. The séance sequence and the conjuring up of Elvira are quite astonishing and hilarious, as is the fact that no one except Charles can see her. Dan Stevens’s excellent performance, the scenic locations, and the modernist aesthetic, help lead us to 1930s English country life. The supernatural strain that runs throughout the film keeps one’s interest; the costumes, hairstyles and vintage cars definitely bring a certain mood. So if you enjoy such a setting, you will definitely be entertained by this film. A good one-time watch!
Disclaimer: The above review solely illustrates the views of the writer.