Bright Young Things from 2003 with Fenella Wooglar, Emily Mortimer, Michael Sheen, Dan Aykroyd, Peter O'Toole, Stockard Channing and James McAvoy
Start with the excellent capture-the-moment Evelyn Waugh novel, Vile Bodies, add in a strong cast and smart directing by Stephen Fry and, right out of the shoot, you're on a exhilarating and exhausting romp with England's young, idle and aimlessly rich 1930s party set - the Bright Young Things.
The first three-quarters of Bright Young Things is mainly a phantasmagoria of one party after another - masquerade balls, hunts, car races, enough cocaine to supply the 1980s, charlatan spiritualists, endless boozing, gambling, casual sex, gay sex (when that was a felony) and general debauchery.
It's all smartly filmed in the wonderfully brassy, cheering and blithe style of the society newsreels of the era. Had the movie been shot in black and white, you would be wondering if director Fry had interspersed vintage clips.
After seeing these Bright Young Things partying, seemingly, without a care in the world, we meet several of them and learn, not surprisingly, that their real lives are much-less gay and easy than their public personas project.
Attractive young lovers Michael Sheen and Emily Mortimer have upper-class pedigree but not its money, which frustrates their efforts to marry. This leads to a fury of get-rich-quick efforts and a quirky hunt for an allusive colonel who, maybe, is holding a huge race-track payoff for Sheen.
Fenella Wooglar, the putative party-girl leader of the clique, uses partying, booze and cocaine to escape real life. Some of the group's gay men are able to somewhat "come out" at parties as their cross dressing and exaggerated mannerisms are seen as part of their set's "crazy" and not the "abnormality" homosexuality was perceived to be at the time.
Hovering over all of this is Dan Aykroyd as the wealthy, immoral and brash American publisher who is insensitive to England's cultural nuances. He hires "spies" (mainly society hanger-ons who need money) from within the Bright Young Things to obtain copy and pictures for his British tabloid.
It, much like any tabloid reporting on the rich and famous, creates a reinforcing feedback loop between the public hungry to read about the antics of the Bright Young Things and the Bright Young Things themselves, feigning disinterest in the attention, but really enjoying it.
All parties must end, as this one does when WWII begins and the bills come due. Pretty, flighty Emily Mortimer breaks her engagement to (and the heart of) Michael Sheen when she becomes engaged to a wealthy man because "It's all very well to look down on money, but a girl's got to look after herself these days." There's a wonderful twist and payoff to this specific story thread, but you want to see in the movie how the reality of WWII forces maturity and perspective on these two former Bright Young Things.
Others Bright Young Things don't make out as well as a trip to a mental asylum for one and flight from England to avoid arrest under the sodomy laws for a few of the others turn out the final lights on this decade-long party.
The Bright Young Things had the money and verve to play outrageously during the Depression, which seemed to both pique and fascinate the struggling-to-get-by British public. But the real story here, as always, is the complex lives behind the happy facades - the tears of the clown.
If Bright Young Things has a flaw, it could have shown a little less partying and a little more of the behind-the-scenes tears and post-party reconciliations. Yet Director Stephen Fry more than admirably translated Waugh's insightful novel into an enjoyable and poignant commentary on England's young upper class taking its last grasp at excess before WWII would provide its life-or-death test for the Empire.
N.B. For those looking to do further "research" on the Bright Young Things, I recommend Bright Young People by J. D. Taylor. Unrelated to the movie, I remember this 2010 book as an entertaining read about this quirky nook of pre-war British history. Plus, you get to meet one of the perfectly named leaders of the young partying English set, Elizabeth Ponsonby.
And finally, a hat-tip to @TKI67 for this enjoyable recommendation and request for a review - thank you.