Charles Condomine (Dan Stevens) is struggling with writer's block, an issue he never had when his wife Elvira (Leslie Mann) was alive. He has since remarried and is content enough with Ruth (Isla Fisher), who has been his wife for the past five years. One evening the couple organise a séance with a couple of friends, hosted by spirital medium Madame Arcati (Judi Dench). To the horror of Charles, it results in the spirit of Elvira being summoned, but only he can see her.
'Blithe Spirit', like so many films before it, was originally meant for theatrical release, but found a home at Sky Cinema. Adapted from the Noël Coward play, the movie often seems childish and silly in its sense of humour. Thus one supposes it would be suitable for family viewership, as even the more adult moments are so brilliantly disguised that kids wouldn't notice.
The feature has some very pretty sets and costume designs, making the absolute most of its 1930s backdrop. It's full of whimsy and colour, referring to the likes of Cary Grant, Clark Gable and Greta Garbo in the script, while phases like “sounds like an absolute scream” feature in the dialogue. While its pacing is variable, and one struggles to be consistently charmed by it, when it delivers on laughs they're big and bold.
Things only really liven up when Leslie Mann arrives and she's fantastic as Elvira. Bratty, selfish and fussy, she nails the "crazy ex-girlfriend", recalling a spoiled Bette Davis or other classical star. We've seen Isla Fisher before in this era of film in 'Great Gatsby', but Mann is made for the '30s with those cheekbones. While the film strikes one as an in-between job that's not too committal for its stars, 'Blithe Spirit' at least proves you can throw pretty much anything by way of Dan Stevens and Isla Fisher and they'll deliver and then some. It also proves that we need to get Leslie Mann into more character and comedic roles, because she's made for them. As for Dame Judi Dench, she's great as always, and one is so relieved that she is no longer playing an Irish accented fairy.
The funny thing is 'Blithe Spirit' looks and feel like a made-for-TV movie, so its destination is apt. But it can make the source material feel outdated, and there are other flaws with the adaptation. Its silliness can get grating, particularly in that first act. But on the bright side, the ending is a worthy payoff.
'Blithe Spirit' is available on Sky Cinema now.