Time Out says
At its best when it’s intimately unencumbered with its own period trappings, this half-effective romance is never less than easy on the eye.
The affair between writers Virginia Woolf and Vita Sackville-West is ripe for a cinematic version. Here are two fiercely intelligent, independent, well-known women sharing their love of language and embarking on a sexual relationship with the full knowledge of their husbands. In the 1920s. They even left behind fascinating letters that formed the basis of the 1992 play by Eileen Atkins, who serves as co-writer for director Chanya Button. This film adds speaking parts for several other characters, but it’s at its best when the two women are bearing their souls to each other.
Gemma Arterton plays Vita as a spirited society gal who sets her sights on Virginia (Elizabeth Debicki), a moderately successful author living in down-at-heel Bloomsbury. While far more interested in writing than sex, Virginia slowly bends to Vita’s strong will, but is dogged by depression. Debicki plays Virginia as an uncomfortable, often dejected loner: don’t come here for a stylised period drama that glosses over either the class gap or her mental health.
Peripheral characters sporadically amuse, while speaking in a markedly different language. Adam Gillen camps it up amusingly, while Karla Crome (interestingly cast as Dorothy Wellesley) puts down a novel to enquire, ‘Does anything ever actually happen to Mrs Dalloway?’ Isobel Waller-Bridge’s modern score jars a bit, as do wavering accents and a pointedly feminist monologue from a male character. ‘Vita and Virginia’ isn’t wholly satisfying, but it does have moments of impact – and it offers an insight into a complex power dynamic that resulted in one of Woolf’s greatest works, ‘Orlando’.
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