Vita and Virginia (2018), directed by Chanya Button [BFI Flare Festival]

In contrast to Tell It to the Bees (2018 – reviewed in previous post), Vita & Virginia is exquisitely written. The story of the love affair between Virginia Woolf (played by Elizabeth Debicki) and Vita Sackville-West (played by Gemma Arterton) that was partial inspiration for Woolf’s book Orlando, Vita & Virginia understands the role of the word in the film’s economy and production of meaning. The project is thus not simply concerned with telling the women’s story but in how to engage spoken language. Scripted beautifully and peppered with extracts of the women’s letters to one another – enacted as Vita and Virginia speaking their words whilst facing the camera head on – there a many moments in which the elegance of the script moved a smile to my own unspeaking mouth.

Both women are portrayed as insatiable – always longing and striving if not for love then for the limits of language, and to tell love through language before fucking love beyond language in sex. They declare lust and love in the language of their letters and looking across rooms, Vita’s wanting and Virginia’s writing, told with the gentle electronic thumping of the soundtrack which enhances the drama with its gentle, melancholic beat. Most characters seem involved with a few others – polyamory making a swarming erotic that is written across the skin of many bodies. Though Virginia and Vita’s husbands suffer pangs of jealousy as the women magnetise, they both shown as men striving to understand and support the women they love.

(Because of the volume of films at BFI Flare I’m going to cut this review short but will revisit Vita & Virginia and expand on various aspects upon its general release.)

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