2 out of 5 stars
Some stories manage to transcend time and connect with audiences across the generations. Blithe Spirit was a celebrated comedic play written by the legendary playwright, Noël Coward, which went on to be one of London's longest-running non-musicals. It was eventually brought to the silver screen in 1945 with Rex Harrison, Constance Cummings, and Kay Hammond in this cinematic classic's title roles. Then over the decades, it has been reimagined on the stage, television and at the movies with varying levels of success as each tries to introduce the next generation to Coward’s rare depiction of wit and comedic timing.
As he transitions from television to feature films, director Edward Hall attempts to capture the legendary writer's magic by conjuring up the spirit of this classic tale. Going back to the golden era of filmmaking, novelist Charles Condomine (Dan Stevens) struggles to write his first screenplay. His writer’s block has left him sequestered to his office and has pushed his wife, Ruth (Isla Fisher), to the point of breaking. In a desperate attempt to get out of this rut, the writer decides to hire Madame Arcati (Dame Judi Dench) to his home to conduct a séance for artistic inspiration. An act that accidentally leads to the ghost of Charles’ deceased first wife, Elvira (Leslie Mann) to haunt his life. Even though he is the only person who can see her, the first Mrs. Condomine begins to cause challenges in his current marriage.
Initially, Elvira’s appearance is the very thing that Charles needs to break through his blockage. Since she had been the inspiration for all of his novels, he looks to his muse once again to finish the screenplay. They even begin to rekindle their romance in this strange spiritual realm, until the novelist realises that this will never work and he needs to remain faithful to Ruth. The only problem is that Elvira does not want to let go of this new lease on life and begins to wreak havoc on the writer’s life. This means he must confide in his second wife to find the best solution to remove this sultry poltergeist from this home and marriage.
One of Hall's most significant hurdles with reinterpreting Coward’s screenplay for modern audiences is holding on to everything that made the original story magical. To capture the quick-wittedness and the uniquely British humour of the famous playwright does take a steady hand and fine-tuned awareness of the past. This impressive cast seems to be up for the challenge of delivering the hilarity of this unconventional comedy, but nothing seems to bring this film to life.
Some of the issues can be blamed on the generational shift of the expectation of comedy. Also, how overacting was a normal part of the era that this was written into. Yet, other productions have made the transition across the years, but Hall’s interpretation proves to be too slow and forced to deliver any substantial humour. Dench, Stevens, Mann and Fisher are all accomplished comedic talents, but very few of their lines seem to provide the audience's laughs. This leads to an on-screen experience that comes off as bitter instead of funny, especially when it comes to Elvira’s actions.
Blithe Spirit has the pedigree and the legacy to be a comedic gem, but this resurrection proves to have little lustre. Hopefully, if this version does anything, it would inspire people to go back and watch the 1945 classic and truly experience Noël Coward's genius.
REEL DIALOGUE: Do you believe in ghosts?
Madame Arcati represents a field of study that considers the spiritual realm. As a spiritualist, she shows that she genuinely believes in ghosts and spirits. Even though she uses less than reputable methods, Dame Judi Dench’s character is still trying to address the questions that have plagued humanity throughout the ages.
Considering the spiritual realm is a topic that is something that everyone must confront at different times in their lives. From the beginning to the end of the Bible, God answers the celestial beings' notion on the side of good and evil. Angels, demons and the Holy Spirit (or by another name, The Holy Ghost) provide an alternative view to Hollywood’s expression of spirits, but this film should challenge us all to search for the answer.
If you have questions, where can you go in the Bible to find answers? If you have a Bible handy or even an on-line version, check out these options.
John 16:13, Romans 12:2, 1 Corinthians 15:24, Ephesians 6:12, Colossians 1:16, Colossians 2:10-15, 1 Peter 3:22, Revelation 20:1-15