Thursday, August 22, 2019

Movie with Abe: Vita and Virginia

Vita and Virginia
Directed by Chanya Button
Released August 23, 2019

Writers invent imagined worlds and tell incredible stories that, in many cases, live on long past them to exist in future generations. Fictional characters may be partially autobiographical or historical in nature, even if a work is posited as original rather than fact-based. What survives from previous eras off the page becomes a combination of legend and collected anecdotes and rumors, pieced together to create a picture of what a writer’s real life might have been like and how their own experiences led to an immortal representation through a given character or story.

In the 1920s, Vita Sackville-West (Gemma Arterton) is a prominent and acclaimed writer, married to Sir Harold Nicholson (Rupert Penry-Jones) but engaging in a number of affairs with both men and women while he enjoys similar freedoms. When she meets the far more reserved, reclusive author Virginia Woolf (Elizabeth Debicki), she is immediately stricken. Unlike Vita’s many other attractions and entanglements, Virginia doesn’t warmly return her affection. Entranced nonetheless, Vita becomes determined to pierce the walls that Virginia has built around her and to be a close and personal part of her life.

This film is based on a 1992 play of the same name by Eileen Atkins, itself inspired by actual letters between the two famed authors. Much of their budding romance is presented through the reading of those letters, with each actress addressing the camera directly, their written words conjuring up their presence for the other and completely dominating their thoughts. It’s a stirring representation of a relationship, one built more on longing and lust than on actual interaction, resulting both from the reality of the times and their own personalities.

This film stars two very talented actresses who have already proven their talents at a young age in previous film roles. Arterton, from “The Disappearance of Alice Creed” and “Tamara Drewe,” invigorates Vita with a tremendous energy and passion, set on not conforming to the repressive sentiments of the world around her that demand her to be a loyal wife rather than fully her own person. Debicki, who broke out last year with formidable performances in “The Tale,” “Breath,” and “Widows,” tackles a role that won Nicole Kidman an Oscar for “The Hours” and impressively portrays Woolf as a steely, deeply thoughtful intellectual who has trouble expressing her emotions the way she is able to do so on the page. Isobel Waller-Bridge’s buoyant score helps to add adventure and excitement to their tryst, one that proves immensely watchable if admittedly less than completely satisfying in this cinematic retelling.


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