Director: Chanya Button
Starring: Gemma Arterton, Elizabeth Debicki, Isabella Rossellini, Rupert Penry-Jones, Peter Ferdinando, Emerald Fennell
Words – Carly Stevenson
Adapted from Eileen Atkins’s play of the same name, Vita & Virginia explores the relationship between the Bloomsbury intellectual Virginia Woolf and the aristocratic poet and novelist Vita Sackville-West.
Drawing heavily on their personal correspondence, Vita & Virginia emphasises the eroticism of epistolary exchange. Letters inform much of the dialogue and the heady, high-brow dialogue between the two women is a form of foreplay that anticipates their inevitable sexual encounter.
Elizabeth Debicki gives a compelling performance that re-shapes conservative images of Woolf as a sexless, humourless snob. Her Woolf is inquisitive, playful and alert to everything except her own sexuality, until she meets the immaculately-dressed androgyne Vita Sackville-West (Gemma Arterton).
The sexual tension is palpable from the lingering looks and stolen glances, however, as other reviews have noted, some of their scenes together feel like a heterosexual translation of queer desire.
Nevertheless, the camera work is exquisite, the locations are transporting and the soundtrack effectively communicates the modernity of the Bloomsberries, whose tangled lives are only briefly addressed here (they drift in and out of scenes with very little to do). That being said, the focus is, as it should be, on Vita and Virginia: their intimacy and the words they used to articulate it.