Vita Sackville-West (Gemma Arterton) becomes besotted by fellow writer Virginia Woolf (Elizabeth Debicki) after meeting at a party. Whilst their relationship blossoms so too does their writing even as their bond courts catastrophe.
There are some interesting flourishes to be found in this film. Woolf's depression and manic episodes represented in physical manifestations on screen are far too infrequent making them feel out of place even if they are some of the most compelling bits. The scenes that work best are when characters struggle between what they want and the duties that society has imposed upon them.
There are tiny details that really bring a scene together and hint at something much more thoughtful than the full product we end up with. It is hard to pinpoint exactly where the film is lacking but the glue that holds everything together is weak. A large part is certainly how conventional it is in portraying such a ground-breaking artist. Not only that but Virginia is portrayed so meek and dowdy that it is hard to believe that this is the same person that would write something like 'A Room of One’s Own' or take part in the Dreadnought hoax.
It is fashionable to look back at the Bloomsbury lot as an overprivileged and annoyingly twee group, and this may have some validity. This film certainly doesn't do much to mitigate that conception as all the characters swan around talking in annoyingly high pitched clipped English accents like they are trying to catch the eye of the casting director for a P. G. Wodehouse revival.
The long-suffering husbands end up being some of the more interesting characters, as the film does a good job of showing their world-weariness and hints at their own untapped stories. This isn't to say they are more interesting, just that they are fleshed out well and help enhance the drama in an effective way.
The film largely tries to avoid getting drawn into the politics of the time unless it helps to enhance the drama and in doing so ends up doing more whitewashing than Tom Sawyer. This is sure to annoy some but I think essential to make it work for a modern audience and not get completely bogged down into the minutia of inter-war Britain.
The pacing is interesting as in the first part of the film, Virginia seems a distant and aloof character. The focus is very much on Vita and her machinations. Then the film is flipped when Vita takes a leave of absence and the roles become reversed. This shift in central characters lets you get to know both of them better. It does end up relying too heavily on their written correspondence, however. They are shot in an incredibly shallow lens, so the way their faces moves in and out of focus makes it more interesting than just a talking head. But by the nature of them being letters, they pretty much fall foul of just telling you how characters feel rather than showing it.
It is hard to know who this film is exactly for. With their relationship so surface level and no real tackling of the homophobia of the day, it fails to delve into anything with real passion. Like the real Sackville-West, it ends up all surface and no depth.