Dir: Irwin Winkler. US.2004. 125mins.
De-Lovely is one of those movies which begs the question why. Why in2004 make an old-fashioned biopic of homosexual composer Cole Porter as aheterosexual romance' Why re-record Cole Porter numbers with contemporary popacts when it was done so effectively for charity 15 years ago by the Red, Hot + Blue project' Why, in an agewhen musicals are coming back into vogue courtesy of Chicago and MoulinRouge, would sophisticated specialised audiences warm to a musical biopicwhich would have seemed dated even in the 1960s'

While critics may ask allthese whys about Irwin Winkler's film, the audiences likely to show anyinterest in the answers or the film will be small. MGM has been working hard togenerate want-to-see for the picture including a storm of publicity from itsclosing night slot at Cannes, and is banking on interest surrounding thesoundtrack or possible award nominations for Kevin Kline's valiant centralperformance to recoup its $15m production investment.

Lovers of Cole Porter'smusic will find it hard to resist, but the Moulin Rouge crowd will notbe swayed and Robbie Williams singing De-Lovely won't be enough tochange their minds.

Although well-acted andcompetently directed, De-Lovely isriddled with biopic cliches from the heavy old-age makeup Kline wears for agood portion of the film to age-old storytelling devices like the tell-talecough (which means the character has cancer) or the out-of-the-bluehorse-riding scene (which means the character is about to have a terribleriding accident).

Nor is the gay communitylikely to embrace a film which not only gives little sympathy to gay men livingin a time of such oppression but even paints Porter's homosexuality as abarrier to his true love for Linda Thomas. Whenever the composer's trueleanings are "indulged", Winkler keeps the activities, romantic and sexual,off-camera and refers to them only in the most superficial way. But whileignoring love affairs which clearly dominated Porter's life, Winkler does spenda scene showing the lewd activities of an underground gay bar to the seamystrains of Love For Sale.

The central conceit of thefilm is that a dead Porter looks back on his own life from a theatre auditoriumwith director Jonathan Pryce as if watching a Broadway show. We kick off inParis in 1919 where Porter and Thomas meet and marry for convenience, he toconceal his sexuality, she to keep in high social standing.

The film follows theirrelationship, or close friendship as it was, from Paris to New York and LosAngeles. As Porter's fame and his appetite for male partnership grow, thestrains on the marriage get worse. Cole's crippling riding accident and Linda'scancer bring the story to a close.

Along the way, contemporarymusic stars like Sheryl Crow, Alanis Morrissette, Robbie Williams, ElvisCostello, Mick Hucknall, Natalie Cole and Diana Krall pop up to warble Porter'stunes in the background - and of course, with Porter's lovely melodies andwitty lyrics, you can't go wrong, although Morrissette comes dangerously closewith her strangled rendition of Let's DoIt (Let's Fall In Love).

Meanwhile Kline and Judd areboth fine in the lead roles, he a vital and attractive presence, she abelievable sophisticate.

Curiously lacking from theproduction is the visual razzle-dazzle which suits a showbiz legend likePorter. De-Lovely was largely shot in the UK and it shows. The LA skyhas never looked so cloudy.

Prod cos: Winkler Films, Potboiler Productions, United Artists
US dist:
MGM/United Artists
Int'l dist:
20th Century Fox
Exec prods:
Simon ChanningWilliams, Gail Egan
Irwin Winkler, Rob Cowan,Charles Winkler
Jay Cocks
Tony Pierce-Roberts
Prod des:
Eve Stewart
Julie Monroe
Cole Porter, produced andarranged by Stephen Endelman
Main cast:
Kevin Kline, AshleyJudd, Jonathan Pryce, Kevin McNally, Allan Corduner, Sandra Nelson, KeithAllen, James Wilby, Kevin McKidd