Stephen Campbell Moore
Stephen Fry, a man who rightly declares himself not to be a noun, is nevertheless a successful comedian, essayist, novelist, TV actor, film star and all-round raconteur and wit. He now adds film director to his impressive list of skillsets and qualities with his self-penned big screen adaptation of Evelyn Waugh's Vile Bodies, a period piece examining the cult of celebrity.
Waugh's book races along at a too, too frightening pace (to paraphrase leading Bright Young Thing Agatha Runcible) and the film stays loyal to it. The audience is whizzed from wild party to yet wilder party tracking the doings of the Bright Young Things, an affluent set of young, rich party people who are the frequent subjects of the gossip columns of the inter-war years.
The plot focuses on wannabe writer Adam (Stephen Campbell Moore) whose book is confiscated by customs officers on his arrival by ferry at Dover, leaving him without funds to finance marriage to
fiancee Nina (Emily Mortimer). Various highly improbable happenings involving a drunk major (Jim Broadbent) and somebody called Ginger (David Tennant) bring the money first to him and then away from him in almost enough time for the audience to realise what's happening, before they are again poor.
All the while the cameras flash and the writers record the gory details - making the act of keeping up something of an effort for some. But this reviewer was delighted to see a film that doesn't dumb down its source material.
The Bright Young Things of the title are all played by unknowns, (save for Emily Mortimer as Nina) which makes for interesting viewing - especially against the backdrop of a who's who of establishment actors playing the older generation. Campbell Moore is a winning mix of Hugh Laurie and Jude Law, while Fenella Woolgar is a revelation in the admittedly plum role of Agatha, whose trip in a racing car to a mental institution provides a fitting metaphor for the uncontrolled excesses of her whole set.
Of the oldies, Blues Brother and Ghost Buster Dan Ackroyd is surprisingly good as a media baron, while Julia Mackenzie's hotel landlady comes across as a 1930s version of ghastly Madame Thenadier from Les Mis. Jim Broadbent is reliable as the drunk major, while other cameos are blink-and-you-miss-them efforts - even Oscar winner Peter O'Toole as Nina's ancient and cranky uncle is scarcely on screen for more than five minutes. Of them all, the sight of John Mills snorting coke won't leave this writer's memory in a hurry.
As flashbulbs explode, characters come and go, Noel Coward songs start and stop and costumes change again and again, there's more than a little Baz Luhrman about Fry's frenetic pace - but he goes no faster than Waugh's book suggests he might.
Indeed, the debut director is fiercely loyal to Waugh throughout - it may have been a better film if he had found his own voice in retelling the story. And somewhere along the way, the pace hides Waugh's ever-present sense of coming doom, leaving us with light comedy rather than biting satire. However these are just minor quibbles with an intelligent and witty film whose young cast's performances promise much.