Noel Coward’s BLITHE SPIRIT is a perfect theatrical valentine which is performed each year since it premiered in 1941 in countless productions. The original script finds Charles (Dan Stevens) bringing Madame Arcati (Judi Dench) to a séance to debunk the current taste for the occult. She is clearly not the real deal but the séance is comedy genius.
When the ghost of Charles’ first wife Elvira (Leslie Mann) appears, the comedy locks in. Is Charles talking to the smoldering ghost or second wife Ruth (Isla Fisher) who is clearly still alive? The show ends in a battle of the ghosts which scenic designers relish making shelves fall, clocks explode, fires start, and whatever else the crew can accomplish to literally bring down the house. Classic.
Madam Arcati is one of those classic characters that all women – and many men – have dug their chops into. Now, it is Judi Dench’s turn, and she does not disappoint. Screenwriters Nick Moorcraft, Meg Leonard, and Piers Ashworth have opened the original script to add scenes of Arcati’s theatrical performance, as well as scenes in her amazingly decorated room and spectacular garden above the White Cliffs. The new scenes add one brilliant stroke for Dench – an indelible moment that makes the whole affair worth watching.
The trio of lovers often gets lost in the style of the piece, directed by Edward Hall. The acting style and directorial choices leave the cast adrift amid comic styles that don’t completely gel.
If you know BLITHE SPIRIT, you will enjoy the film and the variations that make it unique. If you have never seen it, treat yourself to one of the 20th century’s most famous scripts, starring a legend in at the peak of her prime.