Whimsicality meets witticism in this delightful supernatural comedy adapted by Lean from Noel Coward’s sensational record-breaking theatre hit.
Cast: Rex Harrison, Constance Cummings, Kay Hammond, Margaret Rutherford, Joyce Carey
Plot: Charles, a novelist, cheekily invites a medium to his house to conduct a séance, hoping the experience will inspire a book he’s working on. The unfortunate result is that Charles’ first wife Elvira returns from beyond the grave to make his life something of a misery.
Awards: Won Best Special Effects (Oscars)
Source: ITV Studios
Subject Matter: Moderate – Marriage; Death
Narrative Style: Straightforward
Audience Type: Slightly Arthouse
Viewed: Criterion Blu-ray
Released in the same year as the much more well-known Brief Encounter, Blithe Spirit was perhaps more popular on stage as it broke records in London and travelled to Broadway.
But under the assured—and cheeky hands—of David Lean, this screen adaptation of Noel Coward’s sensational theatre hit sparkles as a delightful supernatural comedy worth revisiting from time to time.
Its premise is already a hook: a writer invites a medium to his house to conduct a séance for research purposes, but as it turns out—and to the chagrin of his present wife—this leads to his dead first wife reappearing as a ghost.
“It’s discouraging to think how many people are shocked by honesty and how few by deceit.”
There is nothing frightening about Lean’s work as whimsicality meets witticism in this talky piece featuring compelling performances, the most notable of which could be Margaret Rutherford (best known as Jane Marple in a slew of Agatha Christie movies in the 1960s) in a supporting role as that eccentric medium.
Shot in Technicolor, Blithe Spirit even won an Oscar for Best Special Effects for, among other things, the wondrous illusions of objects floating in the air, possibly taking a leaf out of Melies’ book.
Perhaps what is most fascinating about Lean and Coward’s work is its seemingly cavalier dealings with death at a time when death was all that is. The psychological toll of WWII on British families who lost their beloved was huge, yet a play—and film—came along and swept everyone away with its sly humour, possibly making the difficult subject a tad easier to talk about.