Friday, June 03, 2005

Ladies in Lavender - A Lovely Cornwall Afternoon

My friend Bruce called me up this morning and asked me if I wanted to see a film starring Judi Dench and Maggie Smith. "It didn't get very good reviews," he warned, but I stopped listening. He had me at "Judi Dench and Maggie Smith."

I read a summation of the plot before I went. Something about two sisters befriend a mysterious young man who washes up on the beach. These two sisters live quietly in their Cornwall house on the ocean, and apparently have enough left over from their inheritance to have a housekeeper/cook.

The drama occurs when sister Ursula, played heartbreakingly by Judi Dench, becomes a little too attached to the young stranger. She takes up his cause, worries about him as he heals from his wounds, much to the consternation of her sister Janet, played staunchly but in a charmingly understated manner by Maggie Smith. If this part had been played by any actress of lesser means, we would be moved, perhaps, to laughter as Dame Dench takes one step, then another and another, to seeming humiliation. On the contrary. We feel her plight, we even understand it, a miracle of empathy.

One shouldn't, however, pity poor Maggie Smith when faced with such fine acting. Ms. Smith is an artist at scene-stealing, or at least holding her own, with a look, a certain posture. These are both very fine actresses, and it's such a pleasure to see them in fine material.

Throughout the drama which unfolds slowly in front of us, director Charles Dance introduces various townspeople so that we get a glimpse of a typical English hamlet, very smallish in attitudes and exposure, but a snapshot which seems very true. Of particular note is the housekeeper Dorcas, played broadly by Miriam Margolyes, whose entrance is trumpeted by a wailing bassoon. There is a particularly nice and humorous bit where she's teaching the young man about spuds: how to peel 'em, where to put 'em, how to pronounce 'em.

I absolutely adored this little film. I was brought into its emotional core, and stayed there, content. Thumb's up.


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