Vita & Virginia, Chanya Button’s moving biopic about the clandestine love affair between two fiercely independent, modernist 20th-century authors, the legendary Virginia Woolf (Elizabeth Debicki) and the lesser known novelist-poet Vita Sackville-West (Gemma Arterton), is firmly rooted in their writings and literary ambitions.
The friendship between the flamboyant, rebellious Vita and the vulnerable, morose Virginia develops after they first meet at a party, then evolves into a scandalous romance through an exchange of love letters that reveal their innermost thoughts, fears, and ambitions.
As the story unfolds, it becomes apparent that Virginia’s melancholy madness is deeply connected to her literary genius. Eventually, Vita’s infidelity ends their troubled relationship, however, their friendship endures until Virginia’s suicide in 1941. Indeed, their love inspires one of Virginia’s greatest works, Orlando, which changes the course of her career as a popular writer.
Button provides a fascinating backdrop for both women’s lives, capturing the iconic style and energy of 1920s London and the creative adventures of the Bloomsbury group of writers and artists who embraced a culture of sexual equality during that era.
The script, co-written by Button and Eileen Atkins, is adapted from Atkins’s dramatization of the correspondence between Vita and Virginia over 20 years. Button makes daring directorial choices, such as transforming the interior monologue that worked well in the play into convincing dialogue in the film in the scenes where Debicki and Arterton look directly into the camera while reading love notes to one another.
Arterton and Debicki’s engaging, sensitive performances are bolstered by a strong supporting cast that includes Isabella Rossellini, Rupert Penry-Jones and Peter Ferdinando. Carlos De Carvalho’s cinematography, Noam Piper’s production design, and Lorna Marie’s costume design are gorgeous.