Two pillars of English acting—Judi Dench and Maggie Smith—play spinsters who take in a mysterious foreigner in Ladies in Lavender.
Thursday, May 19, 2005
Imagine recovering from a serious injury in an isolated
farmhouse where both of your doting grandmothers dwell. Think
of how they would overwhelm you with lots of home cooking,
attention and love. This is the sort of situation that Andrea,
a young Polish man played by Goodbye Lenin’s Daniel
Bruhl, finds himself in when he washes to shore after his ship
crashes off a remote section of English countryside in Ladies
LADIES IN LAVENDER ( * * ½ )
Directed by Charles Dance.
Starring Judi Dench, Maggie Smith and Daniel Bruhl.
(PG-13, 104 mins.) At the Osio Cinemas.
Though sisters Ursula and Janet—played by English stage and screen legends Judi Dench and Maggie Smith respectively—are not really Andrea’s grandmothers, they treat him like a grandson by raiding their joint bank account to provide him with a nice suit and treating him with the sort of tenderness usually reserved for handling small, injured pets.
Despite the film’s plodding pace and a feel that recalls the sort of British imports seemingly playing nonstop on public television, just enough details emerge from the insular world of the movie to keep the viewer wondering what will happen next. Slowly, Ladies in Lavender, which is set in the 1930s, unfolds like a short story—it actually was adapted from a short story of the same name written by William J. Locke—as the ladies discover that Andrea is an amazing violinist and Ursula starts to have an unhealthy attachment to the young man. Further generating interest in the unfolding plot is a strange, beautiful foreigner named Olga (Natascha McElhone of The Truman Show and Laurel Canyon), who starts taking an interest in the young Polish musician, which causes the neighboring townspeople—especially the angry Doctor Mead whose advances towards Olga were spurned—to become suspicious of their relationship.
Despite the complicated relationships between the characters, little backstory is given to explain why the characters are the way they are. How did Andrea become such an accomplished musician? Why is Ursula such a damaged old lady? None of theses questions are answered by exploring the pasts of these characters.
What makes Ladies in Lavender watchable—in addition to the slow boiling plot developments—are fine performances from the cast. Best of all is the fantastic Judi Dench—an actress who has two Academy Awards for her work in Iris and Shakespeare in Love—who nails the part of Ursula as an overly sensitive senior with some serious relationship issues.
Ladies in Lavender marks the directorial debut of actor Charles Dance (Gosford Park, Swimming Pool.) Despite coaxing impressive acting from his cast, there are times where Ladies in Lavender has the energy level of an afternoon spent at grandma’s house.