In 1940, the Blitz was blighting Britain, and everyone was suffering - well, everyone who did not have the chance to leave the country for more peaceful climes, as the rich were wont to do. Rich like Jock, Lord Broughton (Joss Ackland), who was finding his continued stay in his home country growing more difficult as his estates were going to have to be sold. His far younger wife Diana (Greta Scacchi) was unaware of this, and made no secret amongst her friends of having married Jock for his money and the security it offered her, so she was relieved to leave London behind and head off with him for his lands in Kenya - a fateful decision...
White Mischief was based on a story of true crime, an unsolved murder which took place in Kenya during the early nineteen-forties amidst the so-called Happy Valley aristocrats. We know they're a decadent lot from the off as not only does Diana sip champagne in a bomb shelter with Hugh Grant, but meanwhile the Brits in Africa are indulging in partner-swapping to stave off the boredom of their idle rich lifestyle. Perfect grounding for a scandal, although as you are well aware of what happened in the story before it unfolds before you, the ennui that the characters endure begins to rub off on the viewer, and unless you have a specific interest in the people or the period there's not much to engage.
The cast list is stuffed to the gills with recognisable Brit faces, as if the aristocracy of their acting talent had been recruited to bring these actual aristos to life. And yet it may feature sex, violence and bad language in posh accents, but for the most part it stubbornly refuses to spark into anything exciting, as if the heat of Africa was draining the actors of any vitality as they stand about and pose in expensive clothes, downing martinis and gossiping relentlessly. Indeed, the whole film is nothing but static when we should be lost in the dissolute charms of the characters, and as a result it's like a higher budget version of those stately BBC Sunday night dramas - no surprise, then, that the Beeb funded part of it.
Once Diana and Jock reach Kenya, they are at home with those they find there, as they have all been very much cut from the same cloth; one of the reasons the murder went unsolved is that this lot were extremely loyal to one another and refused to talk too much about what they knew that could have incriminated the guilty party. The film acknowledges that there were aspects to the case which did not add up, but still points the finger pretty decisively at one person in particular. Diana had been told by Jock that should she fall for someone else (assuming she had actually fallen for Jock at all) he would not stand in her way, but when this does happen, his feelings are obviously mixed at best.
The man who captures Diana's heart is Josslyn Hay (Charles Dance), an Earl who has a reputation of shagging every woman who wanders into his orbit, but nevertheless has an allure for her that she cannot resist. After a while he falls for her as well, and something that has difficulty surviving in this social climate - true love - develops which we can recognise will not last. The other wealthy toffs hovering around are a curious bunch, ranging from an uptight Geraldine Chaplin to a frankly nutty Sarah Miles, with the likes of Trevor Howard and John Hurt appearing as far more intriguing personalities than the ones the story deigns to concentrate on. Blake's 7 fans will forever be grateful for the scene where Jacqueline Pearce appears starkers, but she has nothing on Scacchi, as if the producers knew that the only thing that would keep us watching was the promise of more nudity. They might have been correct, as White Mischief is an enervating experience otherwise. Music by George Fenton.