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Taking place in pre-war England, aging sisters Ursula and Janet live peacefully in their cottage on the shore of Cornwall. One morning following a violent storm, the sisters spot from their garden a nearly-drowned man lying on the beach. They nurse him back to health, and discover that he is Polish. Communicating in broken German while they teach him English, they learn his name is Andrea and that he is a particularly gifted violinist. His boat was on its way to America, where he is headed to look for a better life. It doesn't take long for them to become attached to Andrea, and they dote on him. Other townspeople, however, have their suspicions, especially when he befriends a Russian woman, Olga. Written by
This film bursts into life in a few electrifying scenes - but these scenes are perhaps muted by the general leisurely air of the whole.
What can be said is that this film belongs to Maggie Smith: although Judi Dench has the lovelorn role of the smitten sister, it is Dame Maggie who has the wider variety of emotions, the presence, and the charisma which gives the film the energy it needs to involve the viewer. A case in point is the scene where Dame Judi has her point of emotional release - and Dame Maggie tops it with just the slightest nuance of phrase. Indeed, hers is a performance of subtlety and delicacy, so understated and insightful, that it recalls the outstanding work that she did in "The Lonely Passion of Judith Hearne". If it was up to me, Dame Maggie would be right up there in contention for the Oscar and BAFTA.
She is, of course, perfectly paired with Dame Judi, who creates a portrayal of both pathos and charm. There is such rapport between the two that it wipes away memories of the caricatures of "Tea With Mussolini" and replaces it with genuine truth and humanity. The two dames are underscored by the comic bluster of Miriam Margolyes and the suspicious lusting of David Warner.
This is a film of emotion and elegance. If it lacks narrative drive and dynamic then it is more than made up for by the space created for the talents of the actors. It is a film which lives on in the memory - and for that we mainly have to thank the performance of Maggie Smith.
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