Wednesday, March 11, 2009

'Easy Virtue' - a homecoming for director Stephan Elliott

'Easy Virtue' opened in Australia on March 12.

In the absence of any of the film's stars (normally a lightning rod for attracting attention to a film) the Australian press turned to director Stephan Elliott. He appeared on numerous TV and radio shows being interviewed by Kerrie Ann Kennerly, Jono & Dano, and Deborah Cameron all keen to discuss the skiing accident which effectively removed ten years from his working life.

In January, 2004, Stephan skied off piste in Courchevel, France. He struck a rock at speed and snapped his pelvis, crushed three lower vertebrae and dislocated his hip. Before he could be moved from the mountain, the weather deteriorated to the point that the rescue helicopter was unable to reach him. Instead he was ferried down by skiers, and later placed on a fire engine. At the bottom of the mountain, the fire engine was met by an ambulance supposedly bringing blood to the haemmorhaging Elliott - only in haste, the medial bag had been dispatched without anything in it. He was given 20 minutes to live, and lost consciousness believing he would die.

Instead he awoke to find himself in Albertville Hospital. He was subsequently air lifted to Britain, where surgeons were able to reconnect his pelvis using a radical new technique and 11 titanium plates. In a remarkable display of courage, he learned to walk again in record time - and 8 months later was back skiing in the Australian Alps.

During the 3 years it took him to regain full use of his legs he wrote the 'book' for the stage play of 'The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert' and the script for 'Easy Virtue'.

Here is the story as told to David Richardson on 'Today Tonight':

There is also a digital sections of The Sydney Morning Herald, which posted this excellent interview with Elliott and Giles Hardie about the making of the film:

Newspapers picked up the story - many of the journalists including pocket reviews of 'Easy Virtue' into their articles:

In the national paper 'The Australian" Greg Callaghan described 'Easy Virtue' as, "a handsomely rendered take on the Noël Coward play of the same name, about an English aristocratic household in the ’20s, starring Jessica Biel, Colin Firth and Kristin Scott Thomas, to be released on March 12. Say what? A period film for the former enfant terrible of the Australian film industry? “Yeah, but a period film with a rocket up its arse, as someone described it,” laughs the 44-year-old, who grew up in Sydney and wanted to become a director from the age of eight."

There was also an excellent and comprehensive article by Marion Hume, in the Weekend Magazine for The Australian (28th of February, 2009) and a very handsome photograph in the Sunday Magazine - neither of which have I been able to find on line. If you're able to send me a copy via the comments section - I'd be most grateful.

In Melbourne, The Age film reviewer Phillipa Hawker said: "The movie has a strong cast. Kristin Scott Thomas is the formidable, icy lady of the manor; Colin Firth her husband who returns from the harrowing experience of World War I with little enthusiasm for his role as master of the house; and Ben Barnes (Prince Caspian) their dashing, love-struck son. Jessica Biel - Justin Timberlake's girlfriend and a paparazzi magnet who was in The Illusionist and TV's 7th Heaven - plays Larita, a woman out of place. A glamorous young American who drives a racing car and embraces new art and literature, she is shunned by the family she has married into, and hemmed in by English country life.

After the screening of the film to the closing night audience of The Adelaide Film Festival, Andrew Fenton wrote in The Adelaide Advertiser:
"The original play was an attack on Victorian repression and hypocrisy masquerading as moral virtue, and Elliott's version also parodies the stuffy English aristocrats for being hopelessly out of touch and rejecting the encroaching modernity that Larita represents. Such an interpretation, though, could be accused of making a fun movie seem a lot more ponderous than it really is. For it may be set in 1920s England, but Easy Virtue isn't filled with stuffed shirts and stiff acting. Instead, it's full of zinging one liners and period-appropriate versions of modern songs like Car Wash and When the Going Gets Tough."

While at the Sydney Morning Herald, Elissa Blake reported, "Elliott says period films have always "bored the hell out of him" so he livened things up by turning the original melodrama into a fast-paced comedy with an updated soundtrack. The songs include a 1920s version of Car Wash and Tom Jones's Sex Bomb, co-produced by Elliott and record producer Marius de Vries. "We wanted to make it a modern film for young audiences," he says. "When we first screened it in [Britain], the younger crowd lit up like Christmas trees when the music kicked in.