Blithe or No

The troubled 2020 production, delayed by COVID and doubts (that were fully justified)


An impulse purchase this week: I suspect it was the subliminal effect of the tarot spread in the cover image. And I like Judi Dench. And Dan Stevens. And I love Coward, the snap and crackle of his dialogue. Certainly the play could use an update — like removing all the casual racism and classicism.

And there were some stunning locations like the Savoy and this fab modernist house Joldwynds in Surrey:

Fab modernist house Joldwynds in Surrey

But it was a misstep from the get-go as you can read in this review by Sheila O’Malley. I wonder if it might have been improved by switching the roles. As O’Malley points out Leslie Mann at least knew how to play a Coward role, but Isla Fisher probably would have done better as the flighty, peevish Elvira while Mann would have made the raspy Ruth much more biting and fun. They so easily sorted the issue of Mann being American why not let Fisher speak in her normal voice instead of that stilted attempt at an accent? After all, you could establish that he had a type and it was American women.

The soppy backstory for Dench’s Madame Arcati was an embarrassment. Much as I loved her cottage and its garden and the sea cavern, all that was tedious exposition plot-wise. The fun of Arcati is here brisk no-nonsense nature plus the excited woo-woo occultism. She doesn’t need gravitas and heartbreak. Also the attempt to make it more pro-woman failed spectacularly [SPOILERS] because yes, women have seldom been given credit for their creative roles whenever they work with men — but to rip off a future William Goldman (badly) and then dismiss her supposed ‘genius’ by revealing that she had simply plagiarised from a famous Mexican novelist (?! who knew she spoke Spanish or read novels). Along with adolescent panting after spirit sex, implied threesomes, as well as turning Ruth into a petulant daddy’s girl (with a needless and so tedious WINK it’s Hitchcock subplot), it’s dispiriting by the end (ker-tish!)

So here’s a rather more fun version with the delightful Mildred Natwick as an excellent Arcati.

A fun TV production with Coward, Lauren Bacall and Claudette Colbert