Image copyright © by Marcus Trahan

Easy Virtue


It’s Noel Coward, so you know there will be witty lines, and you can be pretty sure it will deal with the British upper classes. (Though he did a really ripping job dealing with ordinary Brits in his excellent wartime movie, In Which We Serve. Writer, co-director—with David Lean—and star!)

This one is not a lot of fun, for me, anyway. I have a deeply-grained antipathy to those born to wealth and position: the upper classes. The only way I can really enjoy material about them is if they are shown to be the twits I believe them to be, as in The Importance of Being Earnest. Here, Coward doesn’t so much mock them as lay them open with a scalpel on a dissecting table. This is okay, but not fun. Mostly, I wish the upper classes would just go away.

The useless son of a family who has done nothing more significant for the last eighteen generations than riding to hounds and investing their money does something unthinkable: He impulsively marries a woman who has just won the Grand Prix de Monaco. Even worse, she’s an American. The poor woman was never told just how rich this useless man is, and is shocked to see the gigantic pile of rock his family lives in. The one exception to the family tradition of utter uselessness is the father, who went off to the Great War at the head of a platoon of local volunteers and came back alone, the only survivor. It has shattered him, unmanned him, and he is the only person in the household I liked, other than the butler. The mother is a nightmare of privilege and entitlement. The two daughters are impossible. The American girl tries her best, but it’s hopeless, especially when it is learned that she helped her cancer-ridden first husband to die. The useless son abandons her. But there is a happy ending, at least for the only two people in the story who deserve one. Flee, father and race car driver! Flee as fast as you can, and never look back!