A GOOD WOMAN
Only a year married, young Lady Windermere (Scarlett Johansson) and her handsome husband Robert (Mark Umbers) join the social set on the Amalfi Coast of Italy for the summer holidays in 1930. When the well known American seductress and gold digger Mrs. Erlynne (Helen Hunt) arrives, the gossip mill begins to churn, escalated by sightings of Robert visiting Mrs. Erlynne's villa privately. Everyone seems to know of this scandal, except his wife, and when she discovers that he's been paying her large sums of money, she concludes that he's having an affair with this notorious woman. But things get confusing when the wealthy and twice divorced Tuppy (Tom Wilkinson) asks Mrs. Erlynne to marry him. Lady Windermere's admirer, Lord Darlington (Stephen Campbell Moore), uses the opportunity to try and steal her away from Robert, and in the process a great misunderstanding stands to ruin Tuppy's impending marriage, while Mrs Erlynne's extraordinary secret - known only to her and Robert - is in danger of being revealed to Lady Windermere.
Review by Louise Keller:
Filled with wonderful quips of wisdom from Oscar Wilde, A Good Woman is an enjoyable social satire about love and deception. The story comes from Wilde's play Lady Windermere's Fan, and the dialogue never ceases to hit its mark. Although times may have changed since the 1930s when the story is set, human emotions remain the same, enabling our connection to the characters and their plight. The film looks a treat with its gorgeous locations on the Amalfi Coast, and its elaborate settings and costumes.
Helen Hunt as Mrs Erlynne, the good woman of the title who thrives from being of ill-repute never looks totally comfortable in the role of the seductress, who has manipulated every married man into her bed; she is far too nice. Scarlett Johansson fits perfectly into the corseted gown of a young and naïve bride, while Tom Wilkinson simply sparkles as the cynical-in-love Tuppy. Tuppy has his fair share of great lines - like 'Why shouldn't she want me for my money? It's my best asset,' and 'A man keeps his eyes shut before the wedding and half closed after.' But if there's one line that stands out, it's the one delivered by the marvellous Milena Vukotic's Contessa Lucchino, when she observes 'Crying is the refuge of plain women; pretty women go shopping.'
The Windermeres (Mark Umbers and Johansson) are New Yorkers holidaying in Italy, when Mrs Erlynne arrives in search of a fat purse to cater for her expensive whims. Stephen Campbell Moore's Lord Darlington is infatuated by Lady Windamere, but she has eyes only for her husband. It doesn't take long, however, for everyone except her to be gossiping about the apparent indiscretions.
Director Mike Barker (Best Laid Plans) has a good feel for the material, and as the plot progresses, it is clear that everything is not as it appears. The final reel packs an emotional punch when Mrs Erlynne makes her ultimate sacrifice, as the threads of the story weave their conclusion. A Good Woman is a witty and intelligent film that is timeless in its appeal.
Review by Andrew L. Urban:
Oscar's fans may go wild, as one of his richest and most emotionally effective plays gets a modern screen treatment. That's not to say it's been updated from the 1930s, thank the lord of cinema, but it's a contemporary screen language that brings Lady Windermere's Fan into our hearts. The double entendre of the title is at once innocent and - once you know the story - wicked. It refers to the actual object of a fan used by ladies in days before air conditioning, to stay cool. It also refers to the plot in which a young man becomes the said lady's admirer, anxious to seduce her away from her husband, who is seemingly betraying her with an older woman, a known jezebel.
The film reminds us that this play is a collection of many of the most famous quips written by Oscar Wilde, referring to love, marriage, women and life.
The film's joys are especially enjoyable if you enjoy wordplay, but there are emotional payoffs, too, as the cleverly constructed plot unravels and we are drawn into the deeper reaches of the heart.
Of course all of Wilde's clever quips are long lasting because they are not only witty, but are that rare thing of beauty, economical words of truth that hide pain in a seemingly cavalier fashion. This was Wilde's forte, an ability to capture a truth about the human condition in such a pithy fashion that we wince at its accuracy even as we laugh at its comedic point.
The dialogue's the thing here, but there are a few handsome images of the Amalfi coast of Italy where the English upper class has gone for summer, and the cast is firing on all their cylinders, from Scarlett Johansson's innocent young Lady Windermere to Helen Hunt's complex woman of the world.
A Good Woman is a film for grown ups who enjoy nuance and the criss cross of man's inhumanity to man, while the dry wisdoms of Oscar Wilde's wit lacerates the human landscape with merciless truths. The emotional payoffs are well handled for maximum impact at the end, making the film both intellectually and emotionally satisfying.
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A GOOD WOMAN (PG)
CAST: Helen Hunt, Scarlett Johansson, Tom Wilkinson, Stephen Campbell Moore, Mark Umbers, Milena Vokotic, Diana Hardcastle, Roger Hammond
DIRECTOR: Mike Barker
SCRIPT: Howard Himeslstein (play by Oscar Wilde)
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Ben Seresin
EDITOR: Neil Farrell
MUSIC: Richard Mitchell
PRODUCTION DESIGN: Ben Scott
RUNNING TIME: 93 minutes
AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: Hopscotch
AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: June 23, 2005