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The title refers to the creatures a very poor addled old lady (Dame Edith Evans) imagines in her paranoid fantasies. They lurk behind every drip, drip, drip of a leaky faucet. They listen all coiled up in a silent radio. The old lady is on to all their tricks, and she tells them so repeatedly. She reports them regularly to the police who scoff at her behind her back. The whisperers, however, are only part of her fantasy life. She imagines also that she is a daughter of aristocracy, an heiress waiting for her money to arrive so that she can pay back the nice gentleman at the Welfare Board. Her routine is shattered irrevocably by the return of her thieving son and vagrant husband, a brief fling with stolen money ending dismally in the gutter where the poor prey on the poor. Written by
The old kitchen curtain is shown in scene after Archie leaves, while Margaret is moping around the apartment. The new curtains are shown again after she returns from seeing Mr. Conrad at the National Assistance Board. See more »
This grim tale about the loneliness and vulnerability of old age, set in what must be the most rundown section of Manchester, manages to touch us in an unsentimental manner. Its chief quality is the crisply photographed slum in which it largely takes place, like the last remains of the 19th century surviving into the post-War 20th. The protagonist, Margaret Ross, played by the stately Edith Evans, lives in a cluttered ground floor flat in this urban wasteland of rain-slicked cobblestone streets without cars or pedestrians, but an abundance of crumbling brick walls, gutted buildings and stray cats. The opening credit sequence of grey rooftops under rainy skies is particularly striking.
At home she looks through newspapers, eats bread with honey, sips tea and listens to radio as her sink faucet drips, drips, drips. She constantly hears voices (the "whisperers" of the title) and turns up the radio to drown them out. When the upstairs neighbors, an interracial couple with an infant, pound on the floor in protest, she pounds back on the ceiling with a broomstick and is showered with bits of plaster. (We see the bald patch from where the plaster has fallen but the absence of other patches means that she has never before banged on the ceiling; this strand of the story would have been more convincing if more of the ceiling was similarly defaced.) When not talking to the imagined voices, she spends her solitary life visiting the library where she surreptitiously warms her feet on the heating pipes, collecting welfare from a local government office where she makes frequent references to her good breeding and high-class family connections, listening to sermons at a local evangelical storefront chapel, and tending to household chores which seem to consist mostly of emptying large quantities of dust, coal ashes and bottles and cans from which she derives most of her nourishment.
Evans brings dignity to the role but somehow she does not seem to be the right actress for the part. Margaret Ross is a woman of humble origins. Evans is a thoroughbred. True, she does claim that she married beneath herself, but that would be putting it mildly. Still, she has the acting skills to keep us entertained, and she gets brilliant support from the secondary players: Eric Portman as her surly husband, Avis Bunnage as a predatory welfare mom and Gerald Sim as a welfare clerk add a great deal to the overall presentation. Leonard Rossiter, too, shows up for a strong few minutes as a government official. And John Barry supplies a melancholy but unobtrusive musical score.
Evans got an Oscar nomination for this performance. Fair enough. But I think Gerry Turpin should have also gotten one for his beautiful cinematography.
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