by Geoffrey Churchman
Classic movie fans are likely to be familiar with the original 1945 version of this comedy (viewable free on YouTube here), an adaption for cinema of a work from 1942 by playwright Noel Coward. This is a fairly substantial makeover, as might be expected after 75 years, but retains the period setting (summer 1937) with a upscale Art-Deco house cum mansion (Joldwynds in Surrey) as the primary location (if it looks familiar, it has been used in episodes of Poirot.)
A solidly Art Deco ambience is presented with several costumes, ornaments and decor redolent with ‘in’ themes of that era.
The storyline is essentially the same as in the original: suffering from ‘writer’s block’, after seeing a touring mystic, Madame Arcati (Judi Dench), at a theatrical event — which goes awry when her levitation is accidentally revealed to be a hoax — author Charles Condomine (Dan Stevens) and his second wife Ruth (Isla Fisher) light-heartedly arrange for her to give a séance. The unfortunate result is that Charles’ first wife Elvira (Leslie Mann) returns from beyond the grave and is helpful in completing his book, but makes his life something of a misery otherwise. Elvira — invisible and inaudible to everyone one else, although is able to move objects — is both vivacious and mischievous. Ruth gets increasingly irritated with her supernatural rival. Madame Arcati consults and tries ancient spells, but can’t manage to sort things out and banish the ghost.
It is hilarious escapism with the preposterousness of the popular Bewitched American TV show of the 1960s. All the actors contribute good comic performances and it is an ideal movie for Napier’s Art Deco weekends.
Blithe Spirit (95 minutes) is screening at the Shoreline.