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Two stars have been known before now for portraying the complex figure of Virginia Woolf: Eileen Atkins and Nicole Kidman, the latter getting an Oscar for The Hours in 2002, despite being forced to wear an extraordinary false nose for the role. Atkins had no need of a prosthesis in her televised 1991 one-woman show A Room of One’s Own and in her 1992 stage play Vita & Virginia. This movie is based on that theatre piece, and Atkins has co-written the screenplay with its director Chanya Button.
Now Elizabeth Debicki takes on Woolf (nasally unassisted) and confidently tackles all her imperious, eccentric, tortured patrician-bohemianism in this diverting hothouse flower of a movie. She carries it off with some style. The drama – featuring the kind of flat, chirruping upper-middle-class English accents that aren’t usually voiced on screen – is intriguing and uncompromisingly high-minded, right on the laugh-with/laugh-at borderline, but interestingly unafraid of mockery.
Gemma Arterton plays Vita Sackville-West, the woman who had a passionate affair with Woolf and inspired her experimental novel Orlando in 1928, in doing so testing to near-destruction her own marriage with Harold Nicolson (Rupert Penry-Jones) along with Virginia’s relationship with stolid Leonard Woolf (Peter Ferdinando).
Vita’s disapproving mother Lady Sackville is played by Isabella Rossellini. Arterton conjures up demure mischief as Vita, but Debicki has the more difficult task of showing how falling in love could either plunge this fragile soul further into depression, or cure her.
It is a good, honest performance and, for all that the movie itself is brittle, self-conscious and perhaps a little absurd at times (“I really am exhausted by this Sapphic pageant!” is one of the lines), there is a vehement, urgent idealism.
Source: The Guardian
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