[Partial repost of my article on the Prairie Rose Publications’ blog – 3/8/2023]
This is the third of my year-long series of articles at the Prairie Rose Publications’ blog in which I’m looking at dance scenes in historically-set movies that accomplish in a couple of minutes of action (dancing) what dialogue alone would take much longer to convey.
The March movie scene.
Name of Movie: Easy Virtue
Historical Time Period: 1930s
Occasion: Formal ball at the Whittaker’s estate
Type of Dance: Argentine Tango
Easy Virtue is a 2008 British romantic comedy film starring Colin Firth and Jessica Biel. The movie is based on Noël Coward’s play of the same name. The play was previously made into the 1928 silent movie Easy Virtue by Alfred Hitchcock.
It is a dark, social comedy set in the early 1930s England in which a world-wise American widow, Larita, meets and impetuously marries a young Englishman, John Whittaker, at the Monaco Grand Prix. When they return to England, John’s mother, Veronica, takes an immediate and strong dislike to Larita, while his father, Jim, finds a kindred spirit in her. Larita also meets John’s former girlfriend, Sarah Hurst, who is gracious, but hurt, about the marriage, because all her life, it was understood she and John would eventually marry. The Whittaker family is ‘old money’, but they have fallen upon hard times, and the family fortune is all but gone.
Warning – Spoilers ahead
It is important to know while viewing this dance scene, that Larita and Jim have a platonic and respectable father-in-law/daughter-in-law relationship all through the movie. He admires her for her spunk, intelligence, and free spirit. She admires him or his wit, intelligence, and compassion. They have found a friendship built on mutual loneliness. They are both out of place within the family dynamics. Larita has been devoted and faithful to a fault with her husband, John, but they have reached incompatibility for several reasons, not the least of which is Veronica’s refusal to accept Larita into the family.
The song Jim and Larita dance to is an Argentine tango—Easy Virtue Tango—performed by the Easy Virtue Orchestra.
What you don’t see just before this clip (below) begins is John dancing with Sarah. It is clear he realizes he should have married her instead of impulsively marrying Larita.
Larita and John have had words over his unwillingness to leave the family home, so they can build a life together away from his controlling mother’s influence. Larita initially says she’s not coming to the party, which is all right with John and Veronica. But Larita ‘crashes’ the party, and finds herself in a near-hostile environment of people looking down their noses at her in judgment.
0:01 to 0:46 Larita accepts a glass of champagne, surveys the crowd to assess their collective attitude toward her presence, and asks the orchestra to play a tango. She approaches her husband.
0:47 In a last ditch plea that says we can save our marriage if we can find common ground, Larita asks John to dance with her. He doesn’t want to be seen with her, so he turns her down in a completely ungentlemanly, and cowardly, manner. This signals the end of their marriage.
1:08 Veronica and daughters Hilda and Marion watch with disdain.
1:16 Larita, now flaunting and taunting, gives the on-lookers her heel, which is a satisfying go to hell gesture.
1:25 Sarah’s brother, Philip, approaches Larita in what, at first glance, seems to be a kind offer to dance with her in this awkward situation. Through her facial expression and body language, Larita shows her appreciation. He spurns her, though, because he thinks he’s cool and considers himself her superior in class and breeding. He isn’t. He’s a jerk. His wink is a sanctimonious put-down.
1:41 Larita scans the crowd for a friendly face.
1:43 And there he is. Like the cavalry riding in at the last moment, Jim is there for Larita.
And they tango. Oh, how they tango.
2:17 The close-up of John peering from (hiding in?) the shadows reveals his backboneless nature.
By dancing with her, he is telling his wife and, everyone there, to also go to hell. He’s done with his marriage. He knows it. His wife knows it. Dancing with Larita clinches it, since the dance is not only scandalous, it is sexy.
2:35 Veronica says to one of the daughters that she won’t stop this scandalous spectacle.
2:57 There’s John again peering from the shadows. Creepy.
3:14 The song fades. Jim and Larita share The Look that means they were meant for each other, and they’ve just realized it.
3:17 Veronica applauds and gushes Marvelous. Marvelous. She reeks of insincerity. It’s all a show for the crowd. She wants Jim gone, but she can’t be the one to end the marriage. Everyone will see she isn’t at fault. Jim and Larita are to blame. This way she can continue to suffer in dignified silence with her stiff upper lip properly stiff. (Aside: We get a hint there is a family friend (widower) who is ready to step up and console Veronica once Jim is gone, and Veronica is more than willing to accept his money and his status.
Until next time,
writing through history one romance upon a time