With the gong-grabbing glitz of Chicago still hoofing across the memory bank, another dose of '20s scandal, celebrity and satire may not seem like a fresh proposition. Fear not: flawed it may be, but the directorial bow of Stephen Fry - actor, author, BAFTA host supreme - is far from stale.
Bright Young Things is Fry's self-penned adap of Vile Bodies, Evelyn Waugh's 1930 poke at posh London's elegant wasters. The sunny-side-up title flip is significant, since the film nails the silliness of its characters' world, but doesn't quite pin down the cynicism. Yes, there's a sobering sense of decline and fall as the narrative path winds its way inexorably towards the Second World War. But things never get so dark that you can't see the happy ending lying ahead.
Still, the upside of this soft-pedalling is that the characters here are more likeable than their literary counterparts, especially our hero, novelist-cum-gossip-rag hack Adam. He's played by screen debutant Stephen Campbell Moore, leading an excellent front-line that includes Emily Mortimer as Adam's flapper fiancée, newcomer Fenella Woolgar (who nabs two of the funniest scenes) and Michael Sheen, shattering his Heartlands doormat's shell with a blast of camp colour. If it's more familiar faces you're after then just look at the supporting cast: Dan Aykroyd, Stockard Channing (as a bug-eyed evangelist), Peter O'Toole, Jim Broadbent, Richard E. Grant... It's a vision of luvvie hell at times but then no filmmaker before Fry has lensed Sir John Mills (now 95) snorting coke.In fact, this is a film full of bracing sights, particularly when it's time to party.
For a first-timer, Fry's not afraid to cut loose in the visual department, whisking in wipes, irises, superimpositions and the odd 360-degree camera whirl. It doesn't always work, but at least you're always aware that you're watching a homegrown period piece made for celluloid, not the gogglebox. And that's a reason to cheer.
There's a whiff of crowd-pleasing compromise around its latter parts, but Stephen Fry's bellow into the megaphone is frisky and well-acted, suggesting brighter things to come.
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