out of Five
Running time: 103
Engaging, enjoyable and quietly thought-provoking British drama with a refreshingly offbeat script and a great central performance from Marianne Faithfull.
What's it all about?
Directed by Sam Garbarski, Irina Palm stars Marianne Faithfull as Maggie, whose son (Kevin Bishop) and daughter-in-law (Siobhan Hewlett) desperately need cash to pay for a life-saving treatment for their seriously ill son (Corey Burke). After being rejected for loans and told that her prospects of legitimate employment are minimal, Maggie answers a Hostess Wanted ad she sees in the window of a Soho sex shop and soon finds herself giving anonymous hand-jobs for cash.
To her surprise, Maggie turns out to be extremely good at her job, which quickly earns her the stage name of Irina Palm and the sex shop equivalent of a cult following, with constant queues outside her booth. However, her long hours and her mysterious behaviour make it harder and harder to keep her new job a secret from both her family and her nosey neighbours.
Marianne Faithfull is brilliant as Maggie, delivering an understated performance that completely draws you in. There's also strong support from Jenny Agutter (as Maggie's supposed best friend), Dorka Gryllus (as Maggie's initially supportive work colleague) and Miki Manojlovic as Maggie's disarmingly sweet-natured boss.
Garbarski's direction is excellent, allowing the family tension to simmer away in the background in the early scenes before wrong-footing us later on. Indeed, scenes rarely play out quite the way you expect, due to a fantastic script that also touches on several important issues without resorting to preachiness or sentimentality.
The film is also packed with memorable moments, such as Maggie proudly revealing her job to her shocked-but-intrigued neighbours or the surprisingly touching relationship that develops between her and her boss. It also gains points for its use of authentic Soho locations and genuine geography.
Irina Palm is a superbly made, emotionally engaging British drama that's well worth seeking out. Also, if Marianne Faithfull doesn't get lots more acting work after this, there is officially no justice.