"A perfectly ordinary film boosted by two perfectly extraordinary actresses"
Watching “Ladies in Lavender” is a lot like watching an old-timer’s exhibition game–it doesn’t really count and the players aren’t exactly in top form, but the mere sight of them in action is enough to give a fan their money’s worth.In this case, the players in question are those grand dames of the British film industry, Maggie Smith and Judi Dench, who portray a pair of spinster sisters who live in an isolated beach house in Cornwall in 1936. One day, a man (Daniel Bruhl) mysteriously washes up on the beach outside their home and they take him in, only to discover that he is both Polish and a violin prodigy. As they nurse him back to health, the sisters begin to develop surprising feelings for him–Smith treats him like the child that she apparently never had while Dench looks at him as the potential lover that she may have never had. Although the sisters subtly try to one-up each other to curry his favor, they both find themselves conflicted about what to do when he meets Olga (Natascha McElhone), a vacationing Russian who is not only the sole woman in town born in the 20th century, but is also the brother of a famous orchestra conductor who could make Andrea a famous musician.
Written and directed by the actor Charles Dance, “Ladies in Lavender” is the kind of film whose story is so slight that it is almost a wonder that it has the energy to actually project itself on the screen. However, this is not necessarily a crippling flaw because the focus is less on the narrative–which would probably seem more at home on television–and, not surprisingly, given Dance’s background, on the performances by Smith and Dench. Both are superb and take roles that they could have played in their sleep and transform them into living, breathing characters that I genuinely found myself caring for throughout. By the end, I was surprised to discover just how much I was invested in their story and their future happiness.“Ladies in Lavender” isn’t great–the story meanders a little too much for its own good and we never quite get any sense of what the violinist makes of all of this–and I suspect that its modest charms will seem more at home on television, but for fans of Smith and Dench–or anyone interested in the art of acting–it is a small treasure.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2004 Toronto Film Festival. For more in the 2004 Toronto Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2005 Palm Springs Film Festival. For more in the 2005 Palm Springs Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2005 Philadelphia Film Festival. For more in the 2005 Philadelphia Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2005 Tribeca Film Festival For more in the 2005 Tribeca Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2005 Seattle Film Festival For more in the 2005 Seattle Film Festival series, click here.