“Madness. What a convenient way to explain away her genius.”
Those of us who took any type of literature course in college or who saw/read The Hours think we know pretty much all there is to know about literary icon Virginia Woolf: her creative genius, her bouts with mental illness, her long-suffering husband, Leonard. Did you know of her struggles with her sexuality? That her gender-bending novel Orlando was actually based on a real woman? Of her affair and love letters to fellow writer and socialite Vita Sackville-West? Vita & Virginia, based on the play by Emmy award-winner Eileen Atkins, allows us to be flies on the wall during this time in her life, and it is so worth it.
It’s 1920s London, and Vita Sackville-West (Gemma Arterton, Quantum of Solace) is a popular, best-selling writer. She’s also married to a diplomat, has two children, is a wealthy socialite, and a feminist before her time with a reputation for eschewing societal rules, announcing what she wants, and getting it. And what she wants is to meet and befriend fellow author and mysterious recluse Virginia Woolf (Elizabeth Debicki, The Great Gatsby, Widows).
Virginia, however, is struggling with her next novel, locked away in her writing room and crumpling page after page. She hasn’t the time or the desire to make a new friend, but Vita is known for her persistence, and it isn’t long before Virginia relents. Their friendship blossoms slowly, two highly intelligent women fascinated by one another’s minds. It’s a joy to watch and the old adage “opposites attract” has never been more apparent than with Vita and Virginia. Vita is an extrovert, bubbly and talkative, lover of dinner parties and large gatherings, happy to see and be seen. Virginia is the introvert, quiet and in her own head much of the time, uncomfortable in crowds, anxious to get back to her books and her solitude. Despite their differing personalities, though, they’re drawn to one another’s intelligence, and the sexual tension begins to build to extraordinary levels before they plunge headlong into a clandestine and ill-fated affair, even as Virginia battles with her inner demons of mental illness.
London of the 1920s makes for a gorgeous and moody backdrop, in turns bright and overcast, and the modern soundtrack gives the film an updated, more urgent feel. Both Gemma Arterton and Elizabeth Debicki give fantastic, nuanced performances, and their chemistry is off the charts, heady and sensual. Isabella Rosselini as Vita’s image-obsessed mother; Rupert Penry-Jones as Harold, Vita’s husband, whose sexual proclivities are similar to those of his wife; and Peter Ferdinando as Leonard Woolf, a man whose business, worry, and heart are all centered around Virginia, round out an amazing cast that helps elevate what is essentially an arthouse film to something a bit… bigger. But at its core, Vita & Virginia is the story of a forbidden love affair between two women – a story based on their actual love letters – who lived as they chose to, and who were far, far ahead of their time.
~ Georgia Beers
Awards & Accolades