In 1964 a dying Cole Porter sits alone in his New York apartment playing his piano. Suddenly a mysterious stranger appears and transports Cole to an empty theatre where a stage version of his life is being re-enacted. The stranger who is directing is called Gabe, presumably the Angel Gabriel come to call the Catholic Cole home.

Cole Porter was one of the greatest songwriters of all time and a giant of American music. He was born into wealth and from the 1920s to the late 1940s lived a theatrical life in Europe and the US full of designer clothes, extravagance, wild parties and handsome men. During this time he wrote some of the greatest love songs of the modern era, songs that would shape generations and accord him legendary status. Although clearly preferring the company of men with whom he regularly had sex, Cole Porter married Linda Lee, a wealthy American divorcee in 1919. The marriage, which lasted 38 years until Linda’s death, was always one of sex-less convenience designed to consolidate and further Porter’s career and fame on the stage and screen.

Irwin Winkler is a 73-year-old New Yorker best known as a producer of such films as the Rocky series. He isn’t a director of note as evidenced by his last film, the schmaltzy Life As A House. However, there’s no doubt Winkler is an adoring fan. One wonders if this is why Winkler directs a sanitised romance-between-husband-and-wife version of Cole Porter’s life. Or perhaps it is the script by Jay Cocks, who found fame writing The Gangs Of New York.

De-Lovely is an odd theatrical take on a clich?view of Cole Porter’s life. It does not deny his homosexuality like the fictionalised 1946 film Night And Day starring Cary Grant; instead it just airbrushes it into sex on the side to preserve the love story with Linda theme. This lack of authenticity, such that you never actually see Porter really kiss a man, weakens the entire film despite the musical numbers. Kevin Kline, who has performed in musicals and played gay before in In And Out, is reasonably good as the self-obsessed musician but the audience never sees any of the conflict in his emotions that would eventually produce his powerful love songs. Ashley Judd plays Linda Porter but the character is reduced to a one-dimensional Armani-frocks-and-hats clothes-horse.

De-Lovely will appeal to romantics and fans of Cole Porter’s music who don’t mind the airbrushing. Twenty-eight songs are performed, some very unevenly, by contemporary musicians including Elvis Costello, Robbie Williams, Diana Krall, Natalie Cole and our very own Caroline O’Connor whose rendition of Anything Goes is as good as it gets.

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