Based on a stage play by co-writer Eileen Atkins, Chanya Button’s sophomore feature Vita & Virginia is supposed to be a long overdue film about the great love affair between Virginia Woolf (Elizabeth Debicki) and Vita Sackville-West (Gemma Arterton). Unfortunately, the characters are never afforded the time on screen together to develop any romantic chemistry, doing these incredible women no justice.
Relying heavily on the numerous letters exchanged between the two over the years, the film puts far too much focus on the time spent apart, begging the question if the writers simply lacked imagination to fill in the gaps. Part of the correspondence between the two is read directly into the camera, with out of focus close-ups on the faces of the actresses, other times lines from their letters are integrated into the dialog. This not only amounts to lazy film-making, but also loses much of the nuance and depth contained in the original texts.
Outside of these letter-readings, the film chooses to linger on the opposition against Vita and Virginia’s relationship – with too much time spent on the objections of Vita’s husband (Rupert Penry-Jones) and her mother (Isabella Rosselini) – rather than showing the joyfulness of it in defiance of familial expectations and social norms, wasting the potential of a truly vital and ultimately affirming LGBT love story. Once Vita’s interest has strayed from Virginia, the conception of her brilliant gender-bending novel Orlando (1928) becomes a mere tool to win back her lover’s attention.
Vita & Virginia is filled with odd stylistic choices: the use of CGI to make Virginia’s ‘visions’ come alive in all-too-literal translations of her words into images; masses of artificial-looking food and an electric score by Isobel Waller-Bridge become symptomatic of the priority of style over substance – all of which ultimately leaves the viewer cold.
CAST: Elizabeth Debicki, Gemma Arterton, Emerald Fennell, Rupert Penry Jones, Isabella Rossellini
DIRECTOR: Chanya Button
WRITER: Chanya Button, Eileen Atkins
SYNOPSIS: It’s the fascinating true story about the love affair between socialite and popular author Vita Sackville-West and literary icon Virginia Woolf.