VITA & VIRGINIA – Review by MaryAnn Johanson

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A movie about the legendary literary lesbian romance that directly inspired the creation of one of the great works of fiction, starring the absolutely incendiary duo of Gemma Arterton and Elizabeth Debicki? It’s criminal that Vita & Virginia is this dull. This blah. This, somehow, stodgy. There’s no passion to be found here: not sexual, not intellectual. (It’s arguable which is worse, but given how little screen time throughout history intellectual women have gotten, I’ll go with the latter.) How does this happen?

It’s 1920s London. (OMG the clothes.) Aristocrat and popular novelist Vita Sackville-West (Arterton) is a “promiscuous exhibitionist,” her disdainful mother (Isabella Rossellini) snipes. Vita’s husband, diplomat Harold Nicolson (Rupert Penry-Jones, sporting impressive historical facial hair), decries the “sapphic pageant” that is her life, as she engages in an endless array of dalliances with women. (They have a quietly open marriage, and he has dalliances with men. But he is a typical male hypocrite.) If only the depiction of Vita’s pursuit of fellow writer Virginia Woolf (Debicki) — a woman of a far more bohemian bent and beneath her, socially — exuded the deliciously sordid energy that her detractors speak of! Continue reading…

EDITOR’S NOTE: Vita & Virginia is AWFJ’s Movie of the Week for August 30, 2019

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MaryAnn Johanson

MaryAnn Johanson is a freelance writer on film, TV, DVD, and pop culture from New York City and now based in London. She is the webmaster and sole critic at, which debuted in 1997 and is now one of the most popular, most respected, and longest-running movie-related sites on the Internet. Her film reviews also appear in a variety of alternative-weekly newspapers across the U.S. Johanson is one of only a few film critics who is a member of The International Academy of Digital Arts and Sciences (the Webby organization), an invitation-only, 500-member body of leading Web experts, business figures, luminaries, visionaries and creative celebrities. She is also a member of the Online Film Critics Society. She has appeared as a cultural commentator on BBC Radio, LBC-London, and on local radio programs across North America, and she served as a judge at the first Science Fiction, Fantasy and Horror Film Festival at the 2003 I-Con, the largest SF convention on the East Coast. She is the author of The Totally Geeky Guide to The Princess Bride, and is an award-winning screenwriter. Read Johanson's recent articles below. For her archive, type "MaryAnn Johanson" in the Search Box (upper right corner of screen).