Cert – 12, Run-time – 1 hour 36 minutes, Director – Edward Hall
A struggling writer (Dan Stevens) begins to experience troubles in his second marriage when the ghost of his first wife (Leslie Manville) reappears after a séance.
‘Jolly good, what a splendidly smashing show, old chap!’ were unlikely the words that Noel Coward first thought when looking at the finished script for his 1941 play Blithe Spirit. It’s also unlikely that such terms or phrases were ever in this script. However, it’s exactly the type of stereotypical, dated British posh-talk that this newest film-take on the play is littered with. As characters get more and more infuriated they blurt out terms such as “hussy” and “harlot”, and dare they exclaim “bally”? There’s almost surprise in the eyes of the big-name actors as they find themselves reading off such lines.
The story follows Dan Steven’s Charles Condomine, a struggling 1930’s writer who has been given the opportunity to adapt one of his successful mystery novels into a feature film. However, for weeks he has suffered from writer’s block, with no clue as to what he should put on the page, his wife Ruth (Isla Fisher) at this point struggling to offer any more support than a simple ‘get on with it’. However, after getting some inspiration for his script Charles invites a medium (Judi Dench) to his lavish, seemingly modern design, home for a séance. While initially there are no effects, not even further inspiration, it’s not long until Charles is able to see the ghost of his deceased first wife, Elvira (Leslie Mann). However, it’s only him who can see her.
Cue routines about how nobody else can see Elvira and so get the wrong message when Charles is talking to her and a complicated marriage spawning from there. Despite Ruth objecting against such intrusions in her husband’s life things develop well for the screenplay with his dead first wife back on the scene. Elvira essentially writes the script for Charles, as she did his books when she was alive. While she doesn’t actually write herself, she tells him what words he should put on the page. Ghostly powers certainly fluctuate throughout the film. One minute ghosts can walk through walls and simply go through people, the next they can pick up objects, control them and even manipulate multiple items from a distance.
Throughout the tone is that of a garish ‘wacky’ comedy. Characters blithering around – the opening lines of the film are Stevens’ character calling himself a “blithering idiot” – through the same repeated jokes over and over. To pick things up the score, with a tone that highlights just how zany and kooky things have become, kicks in. However, none of this distracts from the fact that the film as a whole is void of wit and charm, in fact everything seems to be rather overdone. Every scene – even the ones where the lights are turned off or events are set at night – is garishly lit, full-on bright light flooding the entire frame; simply highlighting the watered down florescent colours.
Everything becomes a mesh of a comedy that almost seems as if it’s screenplay is trying to poke fun at itself when it comes to certain instances and lines. There are times when you almost expect the set to fall apart and the cast of Mischief Theatre to run on, forget their lines and turn this into The Séance That Goes Wrong – it would certainly be far more entertaining. Unfortunately, what we’re left with is a very long, very bland, 96 minutes that truly shows its length towards the end as various pieces of string are picked up, some which weren’t there in the first place, and tied together to create some form of ending. Yet, throughout, aside from the repetitious jokes, the recurring theme is a simple pun. Ghost-writer.
Taking a stereotypical, dated view of 1930’s posh-Britain this take on Noel Coward’s Blithe Spirit simply lacks any form of charm to properly highlight humour. The living characters have as much life as the ghost, and to think of it the film itself.