MOVIE OF THE WEEK August 30, 2019: VITA & VIRGINIA

0 Flares 0 Flares ×

The real-life romance between writers Virginia Woolf (Elizabeth Debicki) and Vita Sackville-West (Gemma Arterton) takes center stage in Chanya Button’s provocative period drama Vita & Virginia. Exploring sexuality and passion, desire and connection, the film features strong performances and a script by Eileen Atkins that effectively incorporates the two women’s own words.
 
Most of those words take the form of correspondence between the two — from early, more formal notes after they first meet each other at a party to impassioned epistles exchanged when they’ve acknowledged their need for each other and are kept apart by convention and circumstance. Not that either is much ruled by convention when it comes down to it; both women lead fairly bohemian lives dedicated to art, conversation, and introspection.

That, of course, reflects the privileges and predilections of the class they belonged to; Sackville-West, in particular, came from aristocratic stock, and Arterton portrays her as having confidence and entitlement in spades — Vita goes after who and what she wants and is used to getting it, damn the consequences. Debicki’s Virginia is more delicate and unsure of herself, but she responds strongly to Vita’s spark and vitality, and her cool thoughtfulness is a compelling counterpoint to Vita’s impulsiveness.

Both actresses clearly care about the women they’re playing, as well as the relationship the movie hinges on. Button gives them both many moments to shine, and, in return, they deliver a powerful take on a connection between two people that was as much intellectual and emotional as it was physical. — Betsy Bozdech

Team #MOTW’s comments:

Nell Minow: Elizabeth Debicki and Gemma Arterton create believably intelligent, complex characters in this sumptuously designed story about passionate, creative women trying to invent a new world of equality and freedom.

Sandie Angulo Chen: Dorothy Parker famously quipped that the intellectuals and artists of the Bloomsbury Group “lived in squares, painted in circles and loved in triangles,” an observation that comes to mind as one watches Vita & Virginia, about legendary novelist Virginia Woolf ‘s (Elizabeth Debicki) 1920s affair with writer and socialite Vita Sackville-West (Gemma Arterton). Directed by Chanya Button, who co-wrote the screenplay with award-winning actor Eileen Atkins, the film is based on the passionate and prodigious letters between Woolf and Sackville-West. The film explores how the quasi-asexual (but deeply devoted to her husband Leonard) Virginia has a sexual awakening with the scandalously adventurous Vita. Both actors are fabulous portraying these women so far ahead of their time, and the costumes, art direction, and supporting ensemble are all remarkable. It’s a shame there isn’t a big-budget cable series dedicated to these Bohemian geniuses who shared their minds, bodies, and souls in the first half of the 20th century.

Sheila Roberts Chanya 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. Read full review.

Leslie Combemale The magnetic attraction between Arterton and Debicki seems to draw the audience towards them both, holding us in thrall, even through their active self destruction and selfishness. The skill on display by these performers is impressive, but only as they relate to each other, which is as it should be, given the subject matter. Read full reivew.

Jennifer Merin Chanya Button’s Vita & Virginia is a truth-based narrative about the love affair between Vita Sackville-West and Virginia Woolf. Button and Eileen Atkins wrote the screenplay, based on the letters between the two legendary literary figures. With engagingly empathetic performances delivered by Gemma Arterton as Sackville-West and Elizabeth Debicki as Woolf, the poignant, provocative and exquisitely crafted film captures and explores women’s ethos and issues of the era.

Loren King Vita and Virginia and, especially, Gemma Arterton’s role of Vita Sackville-West, has the daunting task of naturally drawing comparisons with the brilliant 1990 BBC miniseries Portrait of a Marriage with Janet McTeer’s masterful embodiment of Sackville-West during her passionate romance with Violette Keppel (Cathryn Harrison). In the new film, Sackville-West has moved on from Violette and becomes enamored of fellow writer Virginia Woolf (Elizabeth Debicki). Read full review.

Loren King Vita and Virginia and, especially, Gemma Arterton’s role of Vita Sackville-West, has the daunting task of naturally drawing comparisons with the brilliant 1990 BBC miniseries Portrait of a Marriage with Janet McTeer’s masterful embodiment of Sackville-West during her passionate romance with Violette Keppel (Cathryn Harrison). In the new film, Sackville-West has moved on from Violette and becomes enamored of fellow writer Virginia Woolf (Elizabeth Debicki). Read full review.

MaryAnn Johanson: 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.) Read full review.

Cate Marquis Vita & Virginia is a gorgeously-appointed historical drama based on the facts of the romantic affair between literary giant Virginia Woolf and fellow writer Vita Sackville-West. The drama is directed by Chanya Button, who co-wrote the screenplay with renowned British actor Eileen Atkins, who used the letters between Woolf and Sackville-West as the basis for the stage play on which the film is based. Filled with stunning 1920s costumes and wonderfully lush sets, the film’s visual beauty seems aimed to seduce us, as much as the lively, aristocratic Vita (Gemma Arterton) sets out seduce the aloof, intellectual Virginia Woolf (Elizabeth Debicki). Read full review.

FILM DETAILS:

Title: Vita & Virginia

Directors: Chanya Button

Principal Cast Gemma Atherton, Elizabeth Debicki, Isabella Rossellini

Release Date: August 23, 2019

Running Time: 110 minutes

Language: English

Screenwriter: Eileen Atkins, Chanya Button, based on the letters of Vita Sackville-West and Virginia Woolf

Distribution Company: IFC Films

Trailer

Official Website

AWFJ Movie of the Week Panel Members: Sandie Angulo Chen, Marina Antunes, Nikki Baughan, Betsy Bozdech, Leslie Combemale, Marilyn Ferdinand, Pam Grady, MaryAnn Johanson, Loren King, Cate Marquis, Jennifer Merin, Nell Minow, Sheila Roberts, Liz Whittemore, Susan Wloszczyna

Previous #MOTW Selections

Other Movies Opening This Week

Edited by Jennifer Merin

0 Flares Twitter 0 Facebook 0 0 Flares ×

Jennifer Merin

Jennifer Merin is the Film Critic for Womens eNews and contributes the CINEMA CITIZEN blog for and is managing editor for Women on Film, the online magazine of the Alliance of Women Film Journalists, of which she is President. She has served as a regular critic and film-related interviewer for The New York Press and About.com. She has written about entertainment for USA Today, The L.A. Times, US Magazine, Ms. Magazine, Endless Vacation Magazine, Daily News, New York Post, SoHo News and other publications. After receiving her MFA from Tisch School of the Arts (Grad Acting), Jennifer performed at the O'Neill Theater Center's Playwrights Conference, Long Wharf Theater, American Place Theatre and LaMamma, where she worked with renown Japanese director, Shuji Terayama. She subsequently joined Terayama's theater company in Tokyo, where she also acted in films. Her journalism career began when she was asked to write about Terayama for The Drama Review. She became a regular contributor to the Christian Science Monitor after writing an article about Marketta Kimbrell's Theater For The Forgotten, with which she was performing at the time. She was an O'Neill Theater Center National Critics' Institute Fellow, and then became the institute's Coordinator. While teaching at the Universities of Wisconsin and Rhode Island, she wrote "A Directory of Festivals of Theater, Dance and Folklore Around the World," published by the International Theater Institute. Denmark's Odin Teatret's director, Eugenio Barba, wrote his manifesto in the form of a letter to "Dear Jennifer Merin," which has been published around the world, in languages as diverse as Farsi and Romanian. Jennifer's culturally-oriented travel column began in the LA Times in 1984, then moved to The Associated Press, LA Times Syndicate, Tribune Media, Creators Syndicate and (currently) Arcamax Publishing. She's been news writer/editor for ABC Radio Networks, on-air reporter for NBC, CBS Radio and, currently, for Westwood One's America In the Morning. She is also a member of the Broadcast Film Critics Association. For her AWFJ archive, type "Jennifer Merin" in the Search Box (upper right corner of screen).