Everything you need to know about the latest ‘Blithe Spirit’ screen adaptation
Noël Coward, a genius of the theatre, was a mover and shaker of the 20th century. Very happily for us, many of his plays, including Hay Fever, Private Lives and Blithe Spirit have remained in the popular theatre repertoire. Blithe Spirit, written as a comic play, was first adapted for the screen in 1945 starring Sir Rex Harrison (most famous for playing Professor Henry Higgins in My Fair Lady). Now it has been reworked for modern audiences and is due to drop on Friday 15 January.
The play is about the socialite and novelist Charles Condomine (played by Downton Abbey’s Dan Stevens), who, following a trip to the theatre light-heartedly invites the eccentric clairvoyant, Madame Arcati (played by Dame Judi Dench), back to his house to conduct a séance (an attempt to communicate with spirits), in the hope of gathering material for his upcoming book. The scheme backfires in cataclysmic fashion, when Charles’s dead ex-wife, the temperamental, complicated and brilliantly named Elvira (played by Lesley Mann) returns from beyond the grave, only visible to him. Elvira proceeds to make Charles’s life a misery; making attempts to disrupt his second marriage to Ruth (played by Isla Fisher).
This second film adaptation is directed by Edward Hall (who has directed Downton Abbey, The Durrells and the William Boyd thriller Restless), the son of the great theatre director Peter Hall, who founded the Royal Shakespeare Company and ran the National Theatre for 15 years. More recently, Edward Hall has been at the helm of Hampstead Theatre, the famously high brow London playhouse.
Coward’s original 1941 script has been reimagined (rather than it being a straight adaptation) by Piers Ashworth and Nick Moorcroft (who wrote the noughties reboot of St Trinian’s), as well as Meg Leonard (who last collaborated with the duo on 2019’s choral comedy Fisherman’s Friends). The Times writes that in this version, Condomine ‘gets more of a comeuppance than Coward gave him’ (for embarking on an affair with the spirit of his dead wife) and Arcati ‘is allowed to be more than just a dotty eccentric’.
Judging by the trailer alone; the costumes and glamour is transportive, the Hollywood stardust is palpable and there are far worse ways you could while away a lockdown evening than to watch.
Blithe Spirit is on Sky Cinema and Now TV from 15 January
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