Vita & Virginia 1.0 stars

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Synopsis

Score one for conventional what-about-the-children morality, as represented with towering dignity and withering scorn by Isabella Rossellini in director Chanya Button’s account of the swooning, seething, but decidedly unloving romance between literary author Virginia Woolf (Elizabeth Debicki, willowy) and popular author Vita Sackville-West (Gemma Arterton, sartorial). Both women are engaged in unusual marriages: Vita plays the part of diplomat’s wife while her husband dallies with other men, and Virginia relies on her publisher husband for stability and support, but not, you know, sex. It’s all very modern and exciting (which probably accounts for the inclusion of pulsing electronic music and partially blurred headshots), except Virginia is neurotic and Vita is predatory, and nobody makes anybody happy — which is why the best thing to come out of the whole affair is a book, Woolf’s gender-bending, genre-busting biography Orlando. Art begins in a wound, and all that. It could have been something: the charismatic leads are handsomely photographed, the story has serious intent, and who doesn’t enjoy tossing a few bricks through the gorgeous plate-glass windows of polite English society? (It’s even more fun when one of the brick-tossers is a member of said society, cheekily biting the hand that feeds her.) But it’s never a good sign for your rulebreaking romance when the occasional bits of dialogue between wayward wives and their sad husbands is more human, more feeling, and more emotionally intelligible than that between the lesbian lovers.

Matthew Lickona

Length: 1 hour, 50 minutes

Rated: R

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