A Good Woman is a fine tragicomic drama directed by Mike Barker and reminiscent of Scorsese’s adaptation of the Edith Wharton classic The Age of Innocence in its close examination of society’s mores.
The story is set in the 1930s, when rich Americans fled the depression and landed on Italy’s Amalfi Coast. Robert and Meg (Scarlett Johansson) Windermere are a newly married and much-in-love society couple who rent a villa in Amalfi; their society is rocked by the subsequent arrival of Mrs. Erlyme (Helen Hunt), who had pawned the last of her jewelry for a first-class berth to Italy. She comes bearing an old secret that she uses to her advantage.
Hunt is delicious in voice and form as the calculating, aging divorcee who scandalizes the local gossips by apparently taking up with the young husband and simultaneously encouraging the attentions of Lord Augustus, called “Tuppy” (the always-excellent Tom Wilkinson), a rich widower who knows what he wants – and what he deserves.
The story and the acting are all high-caliber, including Stephen Campbell Moore as John Darlington, who wants Meg to leave her husband for him. Sometimes Johansson’s bee-stung lips make her ponderings and poutings run together, but in a scene when she lets down her conservative-girl reserve and drinks too much champagne, she finally shows a glimmer of soulful anguish.
The screenplay, by Howard Himelstein, is an adaptation of an Oscar Wilde play, Mrs. Windemere’s Fan, and as such is crammed full of every Oscar Wilde witticism you’ve ever heard and then some, such as: “Marriage is a terrible burden to place on two people. Sometimes a third person is needed to lighten the load.” The jokes, japes, and double entendres keep A Good Woman moving quickly and lightly on its feet, like Mrs. Erlyme herself, right up to the moving denouement.