Vita and Virginia
Stars: Elizabeth Debicki, Gemma Arterton, Isabella Rossellini, Rupert Penry-Jones, Peter Ferdinando
This adaptation of actor-screenwriter Eileen Atkins’ 1992 play from UK writer-director Chanya Button charts the passionate relationship between aristocrat and poet Vita Sackville-West and middle-class writer Virginia Woolf. It begins in 1922 with the fearlessly forthright proto-feminist Sackville-West (Arterton) announcing, during a radio broadcast co-hosted with her liberal husband Sir Harold Nicholson (Penry-Jones), that she considers marriage a prison. Listening amusedly is Virginia Woolf (Debicki) a writer given to bouts of mental illness. Despite being warned off Woolf by her fearsome mother (Rossellini) who threatens to cut her off, Vita has soon infiltrated Woolf’s bohemian socialist set and sets about seducing the writer. Woolf is initially resistant but eventually falls for Vita. Leonard (Ferdinado) Virginia’s husband, surprisingly allows the affair, thinking it will improve his wife’s mental state. The leads are impressive enough, Arterton bold and charismatic, Debecki troubled and delicate if determined, but the script never really gets under the characters’ skins, and leans a little too heavily on their letters (read directly to cameras) to flesh out the relationship. Director Button attempts to inject some modernity into the fusty period drama genre with an electronic soundtrack, which works surprisingly well, and less successfully, with special effects-heavy sequences representing Woolf’s mental condition, which are lurid and distracting.