Film Review: Blithe Spirit (2020)

STUDIO: IFC | DIRECTOR: Edward Hall | CAST: Dan Stevens, Isla Fisher, Michele Dotrice, Aimee-Ffion Edwards, Leslie Mann, Judi Dench, Emilia Fox
RELEASE DATE: Feb. 19, 2021
SPECS: PG-13 | 95 min. | Romantic comedy fantasy

RATINGS (out of 5 dishes): Movie  1/2

After almost a year of pandemic isolation and constant binge watching are we in need of another adaptation of the classic Noël Coward play Blithe Spirit to lift our spirits? Perhaps. But we aren’t necessarily in need of this adaptation.

Dan Stevens and Isla Fisher in the latest version of Blithe Spirit.

Successful crime novelist Charles (Dan Stevens, Colossal) is suffering from writer’s block. Feeling the need to inject some mystical elements into his story, he and his wife Ruth (Isla Fisher, Nocturnal Animals) invite the eccentric mystic Madame Acarti (Judi Dench, Tea with the Dames) to perform a séance in his home for some inspiration. Madame Acarti inadvertently summons the spirit of Charles’ deceased first wife Elvira (Leslie Mann, The Other Woman) who only he can see. Determined to find a way back into Charles’ life, Elvira begins to wreak havoc, drawing him into a supernatural love triangle.

For his feature film directorial debut, theater and television helmer Edward Hall (The Durrells in Corfu) and his trio of writers decide to reinvent the wheel, revising much of Blithe’s original storyline to give it a more feminist slant. It seems only natural to want to tweak the 1941 source material to make it more fitting for 21st century audiences. But in doing so, the creators seemed to have drained all of Coward’s wit and screwball comedy from the script. Though playful at times, the film is more silly slapstick then a sophisticated ‘improbable farce.’

What makes the film watchable is the all-in performances of its cast. Stevens – who I always thought was a bit bland in Downton Abbey – brings the fun, maniac energy the script requires of him. Unfortunately, his character is missing the edges of refinement that help spark the dry humor and work in contrast with the film’s more outlandish moments. (See Rex Harrison in the 1945 film version!) Fisher is charming as the prim and proper Ruth, while Mann seems to relish portraying the brilliant and fiery Elvira. And Judi Dench, well, she’s Judi Dench! Additionally, the film’s soundtrack, set design and costumes are all on point, richly evoking the 1930’s time period.

The rejiggering of Blithe Spirit works well in theory, but it doesn’t quite deliver in its execution.

About Janine

Janine is a dedicated fan of the 1940 film Kitty Foyle, directed by Sam Wood, written by Dalton Trumbo and starring Ginger Rogers, who won an Oscar for her portrayal. And seeing that film is all it took to make her a lifelong movie lover. Janine is excited to add her insights to the great team at