The tale of writers Virginia Woolf and Vita Sackville-West is explored in Vita & Virginia – our review is right here.
Director: Chanya Button
Cast: Gemma Arterton, Elizabeth Debicki, Isabella Rossellini, Rupert Penry-Jones, Peter Ferdinando
Release date: Out now
Reviewer: Amanda Keats
After director Chanya Button’s Burn Burn Burn managed to combine both the emotional sensitivity of grief and pure unadulterated hilarity so astutely, it was exciting to see what Button would do next. Her latest film, Vita & Virginia, goes back in time to tell the story of writers Vita Sackville-West (Gemma Arterton) and Virginia Woolf (Elizabeth Debicki) as they meet, write letters to each other and ultimately begin a love affair.
Both Arterton and Debicki are electric in their respective roles, really drawing the audience in. After all, so much of Vita & Virginia is about escape from the frustrating shackles of societal expectations and the freedom to be yourself when the world wants to put you in a tidy little box. Both Vita and Virginia deal with their inner struggles in different ways, but there is a desperate need in each of them to channel their creative passions, to let the inspiration take them and just see what happens.
Though the two central performances are both beguiling and brilliant, the transition from their characters’ fascination with the other to the sexual relationship that follows lands rather unevenly. It’s easy to believe they would be intrigued by each other, but something is missing before they make that leap to becoming lovers. That said, the wonderfully layered conversations between them mean that their interactions remain fascinating, even if you’re not fully invested in the romantic aspect of their relationship. After all, when the story is so focused on the letters these two women wrote to each other, it makes sense that the story would rely so heavily on those particular words.
Button has opted for very specific stylistic choices in her film, which will either frustrate or delight viewers, especially the use of modern music in this period piece. The film really is all about getting swept up in the style. The outfits, the alcohol-fuelled parties, the accessories and furnishings, the sheer indulgence of it all… it’s all just so intoxicating. Overall, though not everything entirely lands as it should, Debicki and Arterton – and some beautifully understated support from the likes of Peter Ferdinando and Rupert Penry-Jones – make Vita & Virginia a story well worth a watch. It’s sumptuous and enticing, and so very delicious to watch, especially if you’re easily swept away by the beauty of the written and spoken word.