Tropic Sprockets / Blithe Spirit

By Ian Brockway

Edward Hall (Downton Abbey) directs Noel Coward’s popular Blithe Spirit, about some troublesome yet seductive visitations. The 1945 film starred Rex Harrison and a wonderful Kay Hammond in the role of Elvira had a poor box office showing, but is now regarded as a classic.

Here Dan Stevens (The Guest) is Charles, a dashingly dressed but harried screenwriter with a severe creative block. Charles is so sweaty and crazed, that he eats his dull typed words. This is initially fun, as it sets the scene. Our man is appropriately manic.

His wife Ruth, originally played by Constance Cummings, is now well played by Isla Fisher. Ruth is duly worried about her husband’s vexations and implores him to let it rest a bit.

But rest, Charles cannot.

Tossing in bed, he has the idea to hire the medium Madame Arcati (Judi Dench), in the hopes her soothsaying will generate an intriguing character in his script, thereby ending his writer’s block. Dench makes a fine cartoon as the misunderstood medium. She frets with concern and waves her arms.

After a Madame Arcati fainting spell and lightning storm, along with some encouragement from Ruth, Charles sets to write. Enter the temptress, Charles’ deceased ex-wife Elvira (Leslie Mann). Charles is aghast but blames his late night drink.

Things get worse featuring some devilish lipstick, spirited knives and a few scorched fish. It soon becomes clear that Elvira is back and wants her man.

Mann, a comedian, is very entertaining with equal parts seduction and glib charm. She is fun to watch flitting and twirling about like a restless breeze. The only trouble is there is not much otherwise. There is precious little mania in these episodes that the past version executed so well and the paranormal activity is plodding. All is broken pottery, shrieks and smashed furniture.

Stevens is fine in his role as the jittery duplicitous spouse, but such gesturing is more suited to comic John Cleese, all the better in delivering the original verve of the material.

Aside from a very good hallucinatory scene (which seems right out of the Monty Python playbook) things seem a bit spiritless and merely for the home of the nervous.

Lovers of Noel Coward might find the lunacy lackluster. But interestingly the predicament for Charles has a sinister edge, echoing the Me Too and Time’s Up movements.

The singular aura of Elvira (as channeled by Leslie Mann) has energy and play, while serving a well-deserved plate of just revenge—the one bright entity in this haunt that feels a bit too airy.

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