Ladies in Lavender (12A)

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The ViewLondon Review

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Review byMatthew Turner10/11/2004

Three out of Five stars
Running time: 104 mins

Enjoyable, quietly moving film, enlivened by wonderful performances from two of our finest actresses.

Ladies in Lavender is the writing and directing debut of actor Charles Dance. It was recently chosen as the Royal Command Performance film and one can well imagine that it went down a storm with that particular audience; in fact, they should probably just go ahead and add the tag-line, “A Film You Should Take Your Mother To See”, as that’s exactly what it is. As such, it’s an enjoyable, undemanding period film with terrific performances from a grand old pair of Dames, Judi Dench and Maggie Smith.

Based On The Short Story

Based on a short story by William J. Locke, the film is set in a tight-knit Cornish fishing village in 1936. Smith and Dench play Janet and Ursula Widdington, two elderly spinster sisters whose lives are changed when a handsome Polish castaway named Andrea (Daniel Bruhl, from Goodbye Lenin) washes up on the beach below their house.

The two women take Andrea in and nurse him back to health but Ursula develops something of a crush on him, which embarrasses her more straight-laced sister. Later, the two women are delighted to discover that Andrea is a gifted violin player; however, his musical prowess also brings him to the attention of a visiting Russian artist named Olga (Natascha McElhone), whose interest threatens to take Andrea away from the sisters.

Judi Dench is wonderful as Ursula; her facial expressions are simply heart-breaking and the scene where she breaks down in tears is guaranteed to have a similar effect on the audience. Bruhl is also excellent, giving a sweet, sensitive performance and coming across like a sort of German Tobey Maguire.

Maggie Smith plays what you might call ‘The Maggie Smith Role’ (sharp, sarcastic, haughty) and of course there’s no-one better at The Maggie Smith Role than Maggie Smith. As a result she gets all the best lines and most of the laughs, for example, her comment on Ursula teaching Andrea English by labelling the objects in his room (“HE might be learning English, YOU are making holes in the furniture”) or her put-down of McElhone: “I know it’s not very Christian of me, but I dislike that woman intensely.” (“Is she German?”, Dench asks. “I wouldn’t be at all surprised…” comes the reply).

McElhone Only Weak Note

The only real weak note is Natascha McElhone. Why on earth do directors insist on casting her in roles where she has a foreign accent? Is it because she’s so rubbish at acting in her own accent? (Well, yes, it probably is). At any rate, she ends up speaking English, German and even French here, so it’s like some sort of McElhone bad accent bonanza.

Luckily, there’s much better support from the likes of David Warner (as the jealous doctor), Clive Russell (as a fiddle-playing local) and Miriam Margolyes as Dorcas The Comedy House-keeper, who would have stolen the show, if Maggie Smith hadn’t beaten her to it.

Dance handles his material well and makes excellent use of his locations as well as creating convincing period detail. The main problem, then, is that not all that much really happens – it’s somewhat disappointing that McElhone doesn’t turn out to be a Nazi spy, for example, despite her avid sketching of estuaries and watchtowers.

That said, Ladies in Lavender is an enjoyable, quietly moving film that’s definitely worth seeing for its performances.

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Ladies in Lavender (12A)
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Content updated: 22/10/2017 22:12

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