Vita & Virginia (2018)
Biographical romantic drama based on the relationship between writers Vita Sackville-West and Virginia Woolf (Gemma Arterton and Elizabeth Debicki) during the 1920s.
The idiosyncratic worlds of artists and aristocracy collide in Vita & Virginia, which brings into focus the years of friendship, sex, love and letter writing between two literary powerhouses. Vita Sackville-West (Gemma Arterton) is introduced to the effervescent Bloomsbury Set, at the heart of which is Virginia Woolf (Elizabeth Debicki). Their refusal to play by society's rules offers an enticing escape to socialite and author Vita, who is no stranger to rule-breaking herself. She is constantly chastised by her overbearing and dismissive mother, Lady Sackville-West (Isabella Rossellini) and resents the duties she must undertake for her bisexual, MP husband, Harold Nicolson (Rupert Penry-Jones). Vita is drawn to the progressive and sexually liberated group of artists, politicians and authors, intrigued particularly by the mystery and apparent aloofness of Virginia.
Having a long-held and deep contempt for the upper classes, Leonard Woolf (Peter Ferdinando) is suspicious of this socialite's sudden appearance in their lives but Virginia persuades him that their publishing house, Hogarth Press, should publish Vita's next book. Something more than a working relationship blooms between the two women; although each writer holds the other in high regard and they are celebrated in their own right, they crave a particular acceptance from each other. Their mutual admiration, though fast becoming charged with a tension and a passion which excites them both, is peppered with doubts. Their backgrounds and sensibilities are so far apart on the social spectrum that their relationship and even friendship seems doomed. A brief but significant visit to Vita's ancestral home marks their inescapable differences in Virginia's mind and it reignites her fear that she cannot love others in the same way as they do her.
Vita and Harold's marriage of convenience threatens to crumble as she becomes frustrated and suffocated by the role of submissive and dutiful wife, distracted by the exciting opportunities that being Virginia's lover offers. There is always a sense that Vita is desperate to lift the curtain on the 'real' Virginia, to reveal the truth behind the myth and Virginia relishes the challenge, even if she is not always entirely comfortable with it. Their relationship oscillates, they circle around each other and there are constant contradictions between what is said and what is meant. It is when they are separated by Harold's diplomatic responsibilities that the truth pours out. Their letters are infused with a fierce love and longing, a desperation to explore and analyse the heart and the mind - this is where they are most comfortable, each a muse for the other.
Vita & Virginia offers a glimpse into the complex nature of relationships and marriages, questioning what it is to be female and feminine and details the fraught hypocrisies of living in the 1920s. Punctuating the film is Virginia's well publicised mania, depicted through visual, imaginative metaphors, a reminder of her vulnerability that Vita is eager to dispel. Throughout the story, characters struggle with the unwritten rules of jealousy, revolution, power and the myriad forms that love takes. It is from one such struggle, after Virginia sees Vita with another woman, that Orlando: A Biography is born, canonising Vita forever as Virginia's muse.