Blithe Spirit

Blithe Spirit

2021, NR, 95 min. Directed by Edward Hall. Starring Dan Stevens, Isla Fisher, Leslie Mann, Judi Dench, Aimee-Ffion Edwards, Dave Johns, Emilia Fox, Michele Dotrice.

REVIEWED By Jenny Nulf, Fri., Feb. 19, 2021

Noël Coward’s ghostly comedy Blithe Spirit first hit audiences back in 1941 in the West End. However, if ghosts are real in the sense that Coward imagined them, surely he was haunting this ghastly adaptation of his play.

The real spirit of this play is Elvira (Mann), a successful mystery novelist’s late wife who is summoned from the dead after a washed up spiritualist (Dench) accidentally conjures her. This is a wonderful convenience for writer Condomine (Stevens), who used his previous wife’s stories for his books, but this twisted ménage à trois is the last thing his new wife (Fisher) wants to compete with.

Director Hall hails from the theatre, but from his adaptation of Blithe Spirit you would not assume so. The script by Piers Ashworth, Meg Leonard, and Nick Moorcroft (merely "based" on Coward's witty gem) jumbles up the classic play’s material, attempting to punch it up with “modern” jokes about bed performance and pill popping, but adding subpar scandalous gags to a 1930s setting is hardly unique these days. In fact, the film lacks the kind of sharp, punchy dialogue the play demands and supplies. Dead air lays stagnant throughout what should be quippy jostles, and the performances themselves from the likes of Stevens, Fisher, and Mann aren’t big enough, or even fun. As Madame Arcati, the medium who starts all this trouble, poor Dench is left in the cold. Her classical training is perfect for this light kind of farce, but it’s hard to brighten up a space when mediocrity haunts you.

There’s also something quite flat about the way Hall directs cinematographer Ed Wild to shoot the otherwise gorgeous modernist Joldwynds estate. Colors that normally pop are drab and unexciting, and like Elvira once exclaims, the entire home seems to have had “the life and soul sucked out of it.” Nothing feels lived in, everything looks cheap, and lost are the lush, beautiful grounds that usually make these high dollar English mansions so luxurious.

Truly it is the tone that weighs this particular production of Blithe Spirit down. Stevens plays it too earnest and ignorant to be a womanizing scumbag, and the battle of the wives between Fisher and Mann not only feels outdated by the way Hall updates the script but extremely twisted when Fisher finds herself a ghost as well. There’s a sincerity woven into the film’s fabric that does not connect with the play’s wacky absurdity, a wistful nostalgia that’s totally misplaced.

Completely miscast with uninspired production, this remodeling of Blithe Spirit is a faint shadow of its Coward roots, a resurrected retired poltergeist without its same purpose or vigor.


iPic Theaters Austin

3225 Amy Donovan Plaza, 512/568-3400,

Sat., Feb. 27

5:00, 7:30

Sun., Feb. 28

5:00, 7:45

Southwest Theaters at Lake Creek 7

13729 Research #1500, 512/291-3158,

$3.50 extra for 3-D.

Sat., Feb. 27

1:50, 7:30

Sun., Feb. 28

1:50, 5:00, 7:30

Wed., March 3

5:00, 7:30

Thu., March 4


A note to readers: Bold and uncensored, The Austin Chronicle has been Austin’s independent news source for almost 40 years, expressing the community’s political and environmental concerns and supporting its active cultural scene. Now more than ever, we need your support to continue supplying Austin with independent, free press. If real news is important to you, please consider making a donation of $5, $10 or whatever you can afford, to help keep our journalism on stands.

Support the Chronicle  

More Dan Stevens Films
The Rental
The summer camp slasher brilliantly reinvented for the vacation rental generation

Richard Whittaker, July 24, 2020

The Call of the Wild
Buck the dog makes another trip to the Yukon, this time with CGI assistance

Steve Davis, Feb. 21, 2020

More by Jenny Nulf
Film About a Father Who
Documentarian Lynne Sachs comes to terms with her complicated father

Feb. 12, 2021

Ukrainian post-war drama finds a nation dealing with and healing from PTSD

Feb. 5, 2021


Blithe Spirit, Edward Hall, Dan Stevens, Isla Fisher, Leslie Mann, Judi Dench, Aimee-Ffion Edwards, Dave Johns, Emilia Fox, Michele Dotrice

One click gets you all the newsletters listed below

Breaking news, arts coverage, and daily events

Can't keep up with happenings around town? We can help.

Austin's queerest news and events

New recipes and food news delivered Mondays

All questions answered (satisfaction not guaranteed)

Information is power. Support the free press, so we can support Austin.   Support the Chronicle