The Trouble With Jessica review – Shirley Henderson leads satire on London liberals

Estimated read time 2 min read

There are echoes of Carnage and Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? in this satire of north London liberals. It’s an original script but has the staginess of a filmed play, set almost entirely in one location: a big fancy house in Hampstead where two uber-successful couples in their 50s are chattering over dinner. I wasn’t totally convinced by the dialogue; some of the lines aren’t especially clever or witty given that this is a bunch of highly intelligent over-achievers. Not enough sparks were flying.

What the movie does have going for it is a terrific performance by Shirley Henderson as brittle, nervy Sarah, the owner of said fancy Hampstead house, along with her husband Tom (Alan Tudyk). He’s a big-name architect whose latest project is a massive flop, which has forced the couple to put the house on the market. They’ve invited their best mates round for one last dinner party. There’s Beth (Olivia Williams) and her husband Richard (Rufus Sewell), a flashy, cynical celebrity barrister. Beth and Richard bring round an unwanted guest, another old pal called Jessica (Indira Varma), who has just published a bestselling memoir about her footloose wild years. Jessica flirts outrageously with architect Tom, then walks into the garden and hangs herself.

Where the film gets into difficulties is that the farce that follows the suicide is mostly strained and unfunny. Sarah takes control, deciding that on no account can the police be called and jeopardise the house sale. In Henderson’s sly, slippery performance, Sarah’s layers of liberal decency peel away, self-preservation kicking in. As satire, The Trouble With Jessica never goes for the jugular: perhaps that’s because it’s aimed at the same people that it’s about, with insider gags about posh paint company Farrow & Ball’s pretentious product names and a running joke about a French dessert. Those of us who need to Google “clafoutis” may not be the intended target.

The Trouble With Jessica is in UK and Irish cinemas from 5 April.


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