A Good Woman Review

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Oscar Wilde's Lady Windermere's Fan moves to sunny, 1930s Amalfi. Here swells swill cocktails and wax wittily while happy newlywed Margaret Windermere (Johansson) struggles with the knowledge that her husband (Umbers) has succumbed to a jaded adventuress


Didn't this Oscar Wilde play used to be funny? The zingers ("Her hair turned quite gold with grief") are still here. But we don't remember quite so much Sturm und Drang in the piece, an arch comedy of manners - or so we'd always thought - about marriage, sex, class and social-climbing, in which a misunderstanding fanned by indiscretions, mischief and malice is almost the undoing of a good woman.

Getting out of Victorian England to go international, this British-Italian production transforms the honeymooning Windermeres (Scarlett Johansson and Mark Umbers) into fabulously wealthy Americans, human catnip to an older set of worldly wags, whose lives are knocked out of whack when notorious courtesan Mrs. Stella Erlynne (Helen Hunt) arrives. She's been run out of New York society penniless and, although far from a pollo primavera, is hellbent on snaring another rich man to keep her in the style to which she has become accustomed.

Mrs. E improbably gets her crimson claws into clean-cut Robert Windermere (Umbers), and in no time at all he's providing her with a villa, accounts at smart shops and ridiculous wads of money. Naturally, the yacht club is abuzz, and the young wife is the last to know.

Typically, the American stars are supposed to be the draw, but it's the Euro thesps in support who have the best lines and know best what to do with them, as they sit around card tables gargling gin and gossiping. Wilkinson's affable, knowing aristocrat "Tuppy" effortlessly steals the show. But Hunt, while often terrific in some things (she has an Oscar to prove it), is a miscast disaster here, pinched and unpleasant playing a woman supposed to be so alluring and fascinating that men fall at her feet.

Proposing that a young man would do the dirty on his bride with a hardened tart old enough to be her mother - wherein, of course, hangs the tale - beggars belief. And, frankly, who cares about any of them? The characters are largely so lifeless here that their deceptions merely become tiresome.

It looks pretty enough with its scenic and period trappings and bright young things Johansson and Moore. But it's like fizz gone flat, the celebrated sparkling humour muted by a tone that stumbles uncertainly between dramedy and very low-key farce.