Blithe Spirit

Blithe Spirit, the 1945 David Lean adaptation of Noel Coward’s play, is a wonderful film.

Charles Condomine (Rex Harrison) is happily married to Ruth (Constance Cummings). When Charles holds a séance as research into the book he’s writing, he inadvertently summons the spirit of his dead wife Elvira (Kay Hammond). As Ruth can neither see nor hear the spook, she doesn’t believe Charles when he tries to explain who he’s talking to – cue “I wasn’t talking to you!” farce gags as he bickers with both wives.

When Ruth finally realises her predicament – Charles is initially quite pleased to have two wives – she consults the medium (Margaret Rutherford, in a career-defining performance) who brought forth Elvira to try to send her back. Elvira will neither leave, nor desist from her attempts to murder Charles to have him to herself.

Like the later Death Becomes Her, there’s no sentimentality here, though Blithe Spirit is infinitely funnier. Its razor-sharp dialogue was considered shocking at the time: the famous line “If you’re trying to compile an inventory of my sex life, I feel it only fair to warn you that you’ve omitted several episodes. I shall consult my diary and give you a complete list after lunch” was censored in America.

Though clearly not a modern film, the use of Technicolour makes it feel more contemporary and the sparkling script is still a delight.

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