A Good Woman Review
It’s the early 30’s and, while the world is reeling from the Wall Street Crash, life for high society continues much as before. Rich Americans holiday on the Amalfi coast where they patronise the locals and spend their afternoons sleeping in basket chairs on the terrace at the club, part of a select and terribly insular society. Making up party of this stuffy, snobbish crowd are newly-weds Robert (Umbers) and Meg Windermere (Johansson), blissfully married and old before their time. Meg’s innocence and beauty attracts the attention of Lord Darlington (Campbell Moore), a notorious playboy.
A breath of fresh air is provided by the arrival of the scandalous Mrs Erlynne (Hunt), whose reputation has preceded her. Having drained the wallets of any available men in New York, Mrs Erlynne, on her uppers, has decided to chance her arm in Europe and is on the look out for a new keeper. Rumours soon start to spread that she has got her claws into Robert, though she has many admirers, including the wealthy Lord Augustus (Wilkinson) who proposes marriage to her.
Lord Darlington discovers that Robert has been paying Mrs Erlyne an allowance and uses this information to try to persuade Meg to run away with him. Can the web of lies be untangled in time to save Meg’s marriage?
If a film can be judged by its poster then you know going in that A Good Woman won’t be great. Based on Lady Windermere’s Fan by Oscar Wilde, it’s enjoyable enough and clever counter-programming to the fan-boy fest of the next few months. It’s the kind of film you could happily take your granny to as not a lot really happens but it all looks very nice and everyone wears lovely clothes and speaks nicely.
It’s perfectly proficient but all the fizz of Oscar Wilde’s lines has evaporated – the film feels like yesterday’s champagne. Without Oscar’s wit and cynicism this is quite a soapy story with nothing that interesting to say. There are some great lines in Lady Windermere’s Fan (“I can resist everything except temptation”; “We are all in the gutter, but some of us are looking at the stars”; “A man who knows the price of everything and the value of nothing”) but of all the cast only Tom Wilkinson seems to know how to deliver them. His Tuppy is wonderfully human, fully accepting of his own stupidity and deeply in love with Mrs Erlynne, but he’s in a league of his own.
The rest of the cast seem to make the same mistake as many an amateur dramatics company in assuming that Oscar’s lines will do their work for them. Helen Hunt displays her usual brittle, cool demeanour – good for this character, but where’s the vulnerability? Scarlett Johansson, possibly the most over-rated actress working today, is pretty awful, not helped by an unflattering bob and clothes that somehow manage to make her look fat. Stephen Campbell Moore, a good actor with the right material, is simply miscast and unconvincing as a predatory seducer.
The setting is of course lovely but its all strangely unengaging – it feels pointless and unnecessary and almost as if the director just fancied a holiday in Italy. Take your grandmother to see it by all means but she might not thank you for it!
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