Film Review – Blithe Spirit (2021)

I ain’t ‘fraid o’ no ghost! Those pesky paranormal entities have varied degrees of unfinished business that can spook us, scare us, or, in some instances, influence us. Such is the discussion and varied opinions on the subject that rafts of ghost investigators and experts have become household names in the 20th century and its strange realities. Back in the 1940s, however, legendary scribe Noel Coward set his comedy Blithe Spirit in the world of, erm, spirits, clairvoyants, and Hliterary society and it has been re-energised in this charming yet frustrating comedy that proves two’s company, three’s a crowd and Judi Dench can talk to the dead.

Acclaimed writer Charles Condomine (Dan Stevens) has writer’s block at the worst possible time: he has just been commissioned by the father of his wife Ruth (Isla Fisher) to write his first Hollywood screenplay. After seeing a spiritualist medium, Madame Arcati (Judi Dench) perform at a local theatre, his brain begins to fire up again, and he decides to use the profession as his “in” to writing again. He invites Arcati over to perform a séance so he can get some more ideas, but while his guests believe it to be nonsense, she manages to conjure up a spirit after all: that of his first wife, Elvira (Leslie Mann), who begins to wreak havoc on Charles and his livelihood.

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.

Before then, it’s a hoot and a half with Stevens and Dench, in particular, having a ball and bringing the story to life in wondrous, wicked ways. Director Hall, who has made quite a name for himself directing British television such as Downton Abbey and Spooks, gives the film an extra injection of frivolity and colour, but is never able to rise above the aforementioned issues that slowly pull the film further and further down a cul-de-sac of hopelessly unfunny repetitions and ridiculous narrative turns.

After the year we have seen cinemas open, closed, open, closed and so on, it has been frustrating for many fans not to see the films they have been desperate for. While Blithe Spirit may not be atop many people’s “must-see” list, it will certainly go some way to raising the spirits (sorry, couldn’t help it) for some, but for others, it will be a less than sparkling experience not least because it starts so promisingly before being stopped dead in its tracks.

★★


Comedy, Fantasy, Romance | UK, 2O2O | 12A | 15th January 2020 (UK) | Sky Cinema | Dir.Edward Hall | Isla Fisher, Leslie Mann, Dan Stevens, Judi Dench, Emilia Fox, James Fleet