BLITHE SPIRIT (2020) Reviews of Noël Coward’s ghost comedy

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Blithe Spirit is a 2020 British comedy film about a seance where the spirit of a writer’s dead first wife is summoned back, causing chaos.

Directed by Edward Hall – making his feature film debut after lots of stage and TV work such as Downtown Abbey – from a screenplay co-written by Piers Ashworth, Meg Leonard and Nick Moorcroft, based on the play by Noël Coward, the movie stars Dan Stevens, Judi Dench, Isla Fisher, Leslie Mann, Emilia Fox, Callie Cooke, Aimee-Ffion Edwards, Julian Rhind-Tutt, James Fleet and Simon Kunz.

Best-selling crime novelist Charles (Dan Stevens) is struggling with catastrophic writer’s block and a stressful deadline for his first screenplay. His picture-perfect second wife Ruth (Isla Fisher) is doing her best to keep him focussed in the hope of fulfilling her dream of heading to Hollywood.

Charles’ desperate search for inspiration leads him to invite Madame Arcati (Judi Dench), a medium recently exposed as a fraud, to perform a séance in their home. They all get much more than they bargained for when Arcati accidentally summons the spirit of his deceased first wife: the fiery and jealous Elvira (Leslie Mann) who embarks on a mission to kill Charles so she can spend eternity with him which leads to an increasingly comical and deadly love triangle…

“It’s a playful enough adaptation with Dan Stevens proving his worth as a comic actor and Judi Dench’s role expanded because well, why not? It is Judi Dench after all!  Nicely photographed with good production values Blithe Spirit is a decent enough if ultimately disposable film.” Any Good Films?

“Leaning more into the wacky edges and all the better for it, Blithe Spirit has a frothy feel that’s never quite contagious enough but it is more than enough to get it through its mischievous edges and will leave audiences not looking to be challenged, merely leaving them more than satisfied.” At Darren’s World of Entertainment

” …even with the reappearance of the gorgeous, ghostly Elvira (Leslie Mann) this Blithe Spirit doesn’t sparkle as it should, offering broad humour rather than piercing wit, and lacking real joi de vivre (or joi d’être mort?) Thankfully it’s not entirely soulless, despite the lacklustre script – and is almost saved by Mann, and the set decorator.” Caution Spoilers

“It’s a monstrous ménage à trois, and the 1930s decor and chic costumes all add to the fun (especially when Elvira starts chucking the beautiful Clarice Cliff crockery around), but it’s unclear why the period setting was retained when so much of the original has been jettisoned in favour of plot complications and a detour to Hollywood. The biggest laughs here spring from the timeless pleasures of violent slapstick or sniggering innuendo…” Empire

Blithe Spirit is a perfectly watchable, and enjoyable film, it’s just not a great film and with a cast as good as this, it’s a damn shame. From the costumes and the sets, to the performances and the dialogue, this should have been a blisteringly funny and memorable comedy […] If you’ve seen the 1945 version, there’s probably no point in watching this but if you go in with moderate expectations, you’ll find that you enjoy it without being blown away.” Entertainment Focus

“The funny thing is Blithe Spirit looks and feel like a made-for-TV movie, so its destination is apt. But it can make the source material feel outdated, and there are other flaws with the adaptation. Its silliness can get grating, particularly in that first act. But on the bright side, the ending is a worthy payoff.”

“David Lean’s 1945 adaptation of the stage play was a hoot, for all the director was no comedian. But he knew how to showcase Coward’s wordplay and the movie looked terrific, Elvira exuding an absinthe-green Technicolor glow. Hall recycles the set-up as pure missing trousers farce filled with smirky running jokes forced to keep going until they drop sobbing to their knees. Stevens mugs and gurns.” Financial Times

“The issue largely comes down to the script, which simply isn’t sharp or witty enough […] Sadly, Blithe Spirit calls for a bit more edge and a willingness to push the story’s darkness. Even when the stakes get higher and lives are threatened, the movie never feels dangerous enough. Ultimately, the very lightness and froth that initially makes Blithe Spirit such an enjoyable experience eventually leads it to peter out into almost nothing.” Flickering Myth

“There’s a timely message about equality and men taking credit for women’s work in the slightly updated script and Edward Hall even manages to bring Thelma & Louise into proceedings […] Blithe Spirit is full to the brim with a quaint elegance and easy charm. It’s a perfect Sunday afternoon film and a smile throughout.” For Your Films Only

“Despite the heavyweight cast, the film’s production values are those of a kids’ TV show that might go out on a weekday afternoon. Dench does her best with the role of Madame Arcati, and she even has a notably surreal moment, carrying out an occult ceremony in a beachside cave. But the rest is a festival of mugging and farcical overacting, and the Cowardian style seems brittle without any snap.” The Guardian

“There’s lots of nicely staged, knockabout slapstick. To talk about the play as a reinvention makes this adaptation sound far more impressive than it is, but it does everything that’s required of it and at ninety-odd minutes will provide a reasonably diverting afternoon’s entertainment even if it’s unlikely to be remembered as anything out of the ordinary.” Jeremy C. Processing

“This fairly serviceable, if slightly dated adaptation, does exactly what is expected from it even if at times it feels like it is trapped in the past. While not earth-shatteringly original, there’s no denying that this is a hugely enjoyable and beautifully acted old-fashioned farce.” The Jewish Chronicle

“Director Edward Hall has compared this frothy concoction to a glass of cold champagne. But his reworking of Noel Coward’s farce is about as much fun as a hangover. The lead actors (Judi Dench, Dan Stevens, Leslie Mann and Isla Fisher) are game. The fault lies with Hall’s insipid direction and the dunderheaded, wannabe-feminist script.” (London) Evening Standard

“Arch wit of a veddy Noel Coward sort was the prevailing tone of the 1945 original. That’s been replaced by kitsch, reflected in the different takes on the character of Madame Arcati […] It’s a brave departure, but the changes up front mean junking some of the best writing in the original […] The later additions are just creative noodling.” Movie Steve

“There is a wonderfully intoxicating, jovial, and colourful feel to the “new” Blithe Spirit that is impossible to resist in its first hilarious half-hour: Coward’s pithy, jaunty dialogue is always a joy and the winning cast seem to revel it getting to spend even a few short moments in his company, but unlike the play, it always feels like there is something missing from proceedings, stemming almost immediately after Elvira’s reappearance.” The People’s Movies

“If you are going into this film thinking it will end like the play, think again. The traditional ending adds to the irony and comedy of Coward’s script. This ending, a feeble attempt at some feminist team up, falls flat. With it, Dench’s Madame Arcati’s arc is drastically changed […] adds to the idea that maybe we didn’t need a new adaption of Blithe Spirit.” Punch Drunk Critics

“The comedy leans heavily on the device of Charles shouting abuse at his dead wife, who only he can see, and repeatedly causing offence within polite society. An emphatically jovial score, laden with perky little oboe flourishes, does little to help the jokes land. And there’s a curious imbalance to the structure: the film spends a lot of time picking over the feud between the two wives but relegates Judi Dench’s Madame Arcati to barely more than a footnote.” Screen Daily

” …Stevens, Mann and Fisher, as the three members of the triangle, play out their scenes with enjoyably committed gusto, and Leslie Mann, in particular, brings a maliciously calculated flirtatiousness to her portrayal of Elvira. In the chief scene-stealing role of Madame Arcati, Judi Dench never attempts to emulate the lush daffiness of Margaret Rutherford’s classic performance…” Sight & Sound

“Though they all look catalog-splendid in Charlotte Walter’s box-fresh period duds, the stars seem entirely adrift under Hall’s airless, sitcom-style direction. Wisely not opting for a Rex Harrison impression, Stevens plays Charles as equal parts befuddled fop and Terry-Thomas cad: amusing in spots, yet in a comic register not quite compatible with Fisher’s daffy physical mugging and Mann’s sped-up femme-fatale sass.” Variety

Blithe Spirit is released on Sky Cinema in the UK and Ireland on 15th January 2021.

In the USA, IFC Films will release the film theatrically in select locations and On-Demand on February 19th, 2021.

Cast and characters:
Isla Fisher … Ruth Condomine
Dan Stevens … Charles Condomine
Leslie Mann … Elvira Condomine
Judi Dench … Madame Arcati
Emilia Fox … Violet Bradman
Aimee-Ffion Edwards … Edith
Julian Rhind-Tutt … Doctor Bradman
James Fleet … Harry Price
Simon Kunz … Henry Mackintosh
Michele Dotrice … Edna
Colin Stinton … Cecil B De Mille
Adil Ray … Mandeep Singh
Callie Cooke … Googie Withers
Dave Johns … Howard
Georgina Rich … Hedda Hopper
Stella Stocker … Greta Garbo
Alfredo Tavares … Ambulance Driver
Martyn Mayger … Psychiatrist
Julian Ferro … Clapper boy
Delroy Atkinson … Reverend Green
Dean Winchester
Charlie Carter … Newspaper seller
Issy van Randwyck … Margot (as Issy Van Randwyck)
Jaymes Sygrove … Clark Gable
Theo Ip … Reporter
Connor Jones … MGM Camera Operator
Andrew Reed … Tennis Player
Zach Wyatt … Fred
Owun Birkett … Pinewood Camera Crew
Christine Callaghan … Garden Party Guest / Mourner / Theatre Goer
Peter A Rogers … Young Hitchcock

Filming locations:
Blythe House, 23 Blythe Road, West Kensington, London, England (exteriors and interiors)
Joldwynds, Surrey (Condomines’ house)

Fun facts:
Blithe Spirit was previously filmed in 1945 by David Lean and starred Rex Harrison, Constance Cummings, Margaret Rutherford and Kay Hammond.


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