Written by: Eliot Stannard
Starring: Isabel Jeans, Franklin Dyall, Eric Bransby Williams, Ian Hunter
Horrible moments from the past should never follow someone for the rest of their lives if they did nothing wrong to deserve this unfortunate perpetual reminder. It does not allow the person to fully move on with the rest of their existence. In Easy Virtue, it tells a silent yet devastating story of a woman trapped in this cycle where a happy ending feels completely out of reach for her.
Narrowly escaping an unfulfilling relationship with a public and messy divorce, Larisa Filton (Isabel Jeans) wants a do-over in life in France, When she runs into a young bachelor, John Whittaker (Robin Irvine), they fall in love and marry without knowing much about each other. Now going to England to visit John’s family, Larita must contend with a family, and a mother specifically, not accepting her and beginning to dig into her past.
Opening by displaying the horrible circumstances of Larita, Easy Virtue wastes no time in establishing this woman does not deserve the bad hand she has received from the deck. Not only did she have an alcoholic husband, but she gets caught doing a perceived action she never invites. With her husband, Aubrey (Franklin Dyall) walking in on a forced embrace of a hired painter for Larita, a scuffle occurs and it results in Aubrey divorcing her. It may sound nice considering it can be ascertained Aubrey was not the best husband, but the stigma put on divorced women knew no bounds in this time, in particular. It essentially serves as a death sentence in the social light, which makes her getting involved with anyone in the future a difficult proposition. The divorce got publicized all over the papers in France and became an outright unfortunate dilemma for Larita, but meeting John changed everything for her.
Marrying this younger man invigorates Larita in a way she never thought would be possible and she even takes caution with his quick proposal by insinuating he barely knows her. However, these quick assertations of love were normal for the times, and therefore love can happen in an instant, and off to the altar, they go. The high moments of drama utilized in this film never end up well for Larita, as she simply tries to live her life but has some terrible luck with the different people that get involved with her life. Heck, during the court proceeding with her divorce, the judge sided with her ex-husband on claims of adultery where no real proof existed other than a forced embrace Aubrey walked in on and Larita had no interest in reciprocating. She has some tough luck and it does not get better when she visits John’s family.
With the age of movies in this era, some topics within them may feel dated, but Easy Virtue surprisingly takes on a progressive idea of this woman being doubted by the men in her life and how negatively a divorce can impact her even with no fault of her own. It absolutely remains the only take for this story, but others have managed to bungle it in the past. The tragedy of the story lies directly with Larita as she goes each day when visiting John’s family wondering if her past will get out and what will occur if/when it happens. She certainly does not get the warmest reception from her mother-in-law, who objects to the marriage on the grounds of John now knowing Larita for long enough and the plans she had to marry him off to someone else. Things begin well for Larita with the other family members, but Mrs. Whittaker (Violet Farebrother) ensures to turn everyone else against the newest addition to the family.
As one of Hitchcock’s earliest films, this talkie certainly has a stagey feel but certainly adequately evokes the emotions set out by the source material. You can see the early signs of his tension-building in the ways he displays the fears of Larita. The information from her past could ruin her whether it’s fair or not and this paranoia never quite leaves the surface on Larita’s front. Even with the love she genuinely feels for John, the presence of the mother character makes it an uncomfortable feeling for her. This also serves as great work as Isabel Jeans, who utilizes the silent medium to truly evoke the emotions necessary to display the anguish and pain this character goes through with this story.
Chalk it up to another story showing the hypocrisy of society, Easy Virtue plays with the integrity and reputation of a woman who proves to be a victim of circumstance. As much as she tries to move on from things, a misunderstanding will seemingly follow her for the rest of her life. This film shifts between the gloriously hopeful future she builds and crashes it back down in a truly unfair manner, which becomes entirely the point of the story. Certainly an early Hitchock worth checking out.