They said you would never ever see a more intimate adaptation of Private Livesthan the one starring Alan Rickman and Lindsay Duncan more than a decade ago but the sense of unbuttoned intimacy and desire between Anna Chancellor’s Amanda and Toby Stephens’s Elyot proves even stronger.
The opening scene starts with the divorced couple meet on their adjacent balconies at the Deauville hotel where each is spending the first night of their honeymoon with new partners. Amanda asks Elyot for a smoke and instead of simply offering her a cigarette; he removes the cigarette from his own mouth and gives it to Amanda before lighting a fresh one for himself.
There is a real edge of danger about Elyot. When he turns on his clingy and insipid new bride Sybil and hisses “I should like to cut off your head with a meat axe” the stinging venom of his delivery is genuinely shocking. Anna Chancellor meanwhile plays Amanda with a sensual, slightly raddled glamour, her wit and extravagance often looking like a defence mechanism against the knowledge that she is aging.
Coward described the couple’s drearily conventional new spouses, Victor and Sybil, as little more than ninepins, set up to be knocked down but Anthony Calf and Anna-Louise Plowman play them with distinction, the one hilariously pompous, the other a ghastly moaning Minnie.
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