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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.
Short stories often make better films than full novels as is evident in
the case of JD Locke's 'Ladies in Lavender' as adapted for the screen
and directed by the multi-talented Charles Dance. Given the barest
outline of a quiet little idea of a 'fairy tale', LADIES IN LAVENDER
becomes an unfolding meditation of quiet lives altered by an incident
that awakens sleeping needs and emotions.
Ursula (Judi Dench) and Janet (Maggie Smith) are elderly sisters living a quiet life of gardening, strolling the cliffs and beach of Cornwall, knitting, and reading. Their bumpy housekeeper Dorcas (Miriam Margolyes) cooks, cleans, shops, and chatters in a wonderful Cornish brogue, allowing the sisters to live an otherwise isolated life - isolated from history, personal emotions, and vulnerabilities. After a storm Ursula spies a figure on the beach below their home and the two descend to find an unconscious handsome young man whom they rescue, house, nurture, mend a broken ankle and ultimately become doting adorers. The young man Andrea (Daniel Brühl) finally awakens, speaks no English as he is Polish, and his charming ways attract inner emotions in both sisters. Janet studies some German and is able to speak with Andreas, while Ursula pastes English words on items in his room to teach him English. He mends and it is discovered that he is a concert violinist who was shipwrecked while striving to go to America. A Russian visitor to the town, Olga (Natascha McElhone), the requisite 'evil witch' for a fairy tale, hears Andreas play, informs him she has a cousin who is a famous violinist, and attracts him away from Cornwall to London where he ultimately gives his own concert.
Those are the bare facts of the film's story. The magic lies not in the story itself but in the submerged feelings of the two sisters. Ursula, having never been in love in her youth, falls in love with Andrea, fully aware that there is no possibility of consummation. She feels long desired emotional attachment to the lad and the stirring in her breast is overwhelming to her. Janet, who once loved but lost that love to death, likewise falls for Andrea. It is this sibling rivalry over the passion for Andrea that provides some of the most touching and understated brilliant acting moments ever recorded on film. There is a scene where, resting from a stroll on the cliffs, Andrea rests with his head on Ursula's lap, perhaps the first physical contact with a man she has ever known, and the gentility of the slow and reticent placement of her hand on Andrea's resting head is a crystal of acting magic. How the sisters cope with this time with Andrea and his eventual leaving for his career is the climax of the film. And touching and understated it is.
Judi Dench and Maggie Smith give pitch perfect characterizations, creating two lovely beings we will never forget. Likewise Daniel Brühl is superb in a role far different from his usual German repertoire (Goodbye Lenin!, The Edukators, Love in Thoughts) and manages to create the illusion that he is actually playing the violin (while the true artist is Joshua Bell in some stunning performances). The atmosphere of Cornwall is magically captured by Dance and his cinematographer Peter Biziou with assistance from Ed Rutherford. Nigel Hess has written a musical score, incorporating well-known classical violin works as well as his own hauntingly beautiful music that adds immeasurably to the film's success.
LADIES IN LAVENDER is not a major blockbuster of a success nor does it try to be. It is simply a exquisitely crafted and acted fairy tale that gently reminds us that age does not prevent the heart from responding to that most beautiful of emotions, Love. Highly recommended. Grady Harp
The film, directed by Charles Dance, is the epitome of good, low budget, British cinema. Two major actresses, Judy dench and Maggie Smith underplay their parts very well. Maggie Smith has that special gift of "scene stealing". The locations were superb and true to life as I remember that era well. The casting director gathered a supporting cast who added to the enjoyment of the film. My only complaint was that the editing for the first 30mins of the film lacked sympathy with the plot and, at times, very abrupt. The question of how the boy got into the water is never explained but it didn't matter because the script was more of a story without a beginning and without end. A great film, I loved it!
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
'Ladies in Lavender' is an example of the genre which has become known as 'Heritage Cinema'. The term is generally used to describe films set in the past, often in the nineteenth or early twentieth century, and which aim for a detailed recreation of the period. Plots are often taken from literary sources, there is often (but not always) an emphasis on the wealthy or well-to-do sections of society, the films tend to concentrate on emotions and psychology rather than dramatic physical action, and are often very visually attractive with lovingly shot photography of the scenery that forms the backdrop to the action. Although the genre is sometimes criticised as being backward-looking or over-conservative, it is one in which it is possible to work creatively and one in which much good work has been done in recent years, especially in Britain.
The film is set in the 1930s and centres around two elderly sisters, Janet (a widow) and Ursula (a spinster), two live together in a cottage by the sea in Cornwall. (For non-British readers, this is a rural county in the extreme south-west of England). Their lives are changed one morning after a stormy night when they discover a young man cast up on the beach after being washed overboard from a ship. They take the stranger back to their cottage where they care for him and nurse him back to health. They discover that he is Polish, that his name is Andrea and that he is a talented violinist. A romance develops between Andrea and Olga Daniloff, a Russian émigré artist, whose brother is himself a famous violinist and takes Andrea under his wing as his protégé. This romance, however, arouses the jealousy of Ursula, who has herself developed feelings for the young man. Andrea and Olga also arouse the suspicion of the locals, especially when they are heard speaking German (their only shared language) together; this is the period leading up to the Second World War, and anyone believed to be German is regarded with deep distrust.
Like many 'heritage cinema' pictures, this one makes good use of the scenery; there is some fine photography of the Cornish landscapes. Nigel Hess's music also plays an important part; I understand that he composed not only the incidental music but also the wonderful violin concerto which we hear Andrea playing in a concert near the end of the film. (This was supposedly composed by Boris Daniloff for Andrea to play. It did seem a little too conservative in style for the 1930s, but possibly Daniloff was a follower of, say, Rachmaninov rather than the likes of Stravinsky).
What really makes the film a success, however, is the fine acting. The two Dames, Judi Dench and Maggie Smith, are two of the best actresses of their generation in Britain. (They were born within three weeks of each other in December 1934). Both give marvelous performances here, bringing out the differing individual personalities of the two sisters. Janet is the dominant personality, Ursula the quieter, more passive one. Judi Dench shows us the full tragedy of Ursula's situation. Unlike her sister, whose husband died in the Great War, has never previously been in love with a man; she only falls in love when it is too late and her love is an impossible one for a much younger man. There is some enjoyable comic relief from Miriam Margolyes as Dorcas, the sisters' loyal but outspoken housekeeper. Daniel Bruehl is also very good in a trilingual performance as Andrea. (He has to speak dialogue not only in his native German but also in English and Polish).
I had never heard of William J. Locke, who wrote the short story on which this film was based. I understand that he was a popular and prolific author in the Britain of the late nineteenth and early twentieth century, but he now seems almost completely forgotten. Literary survival, however, is often as much a matter of fashion and chance as of merit, and many fine stories have been written by authors whom we do not remember today. In his directorial debut Charles Dance has shown that even the works of a neglected author can form the basis of a fine film. This is a memorable tale of love and longing. 8/10
Beautifully acted. The delineation of sibling rivalry between the two
sisters, Ursula and Joan (Judi Dench and Maggie Smith, is a masterclass
in itself. And what a treat to be entertained by Miriam Margoyes. Her
Dorcas is the perfect foil for the two prim spinsters.
The script is finely wrought and the understated English humour a joy. There are moments when you just have to laugh out loud. At other times your empathy for the characters moves you to deep sadness and regret at lives that have had times of sorrow or been unfulfilled.
The visual imagery in this film is evokes the nostalgic feel of an English rural landscape of sixty years ago. The beautiful cinematography was complemented by the musical score.
This is the second English film in two weeks I have been really impressed by.
Yes, that's what the title really means. It's nothing to do with what
they wear, in spite of the movie posters. It harks back to the days
when people used to lay away linen or other fabrics in lavender to
prevent moths and mildew. So what this film was saying was - these
ladies have been in storage a while, forgotten - and only when the
young Polish guy comes into their lives do they flicker back to life.
The usual superb performances from Judi and Maggie, what makes them so good, in Judi Dench's case particularly, is that you can *see* what they are thinking before they even speak.
Superb fingering on the violin from an actor who, prior to this movie, had never touched one - you'd swear he was really playing.
The movie was particularly poignant for me as I lived for many years in Cornwall and recognised a lot of the scenery. I can, incidentally, assure the critic who claimed a "mistake" by saying Starry-gazey pie is confined to Moushole, that this he/she totally wrong.
It may have been originally a Mousehole speciality, but like Yorkshire pudding, has long since spread to other areas.
Ladies in Lavender is one of those British films which will become a classic for its gentle theme, fantastic setting (inside and out) superb lighting and sound - and a good, strong story line.
Delicate and unpretentious, this story of an old lady's infatuation
with a young violinist is like a refreshing whiff of air amidst the
sultry stench of brouhaha "fat-cash" movies that contaminate the silver
screen this summer. Its overall impressionistic and bland atmosphere of
old rural England with seemingly plain, but emotionally tense story has
a mollifying effect on our senses, long warped by clink-clank of
special effects and overblown plots.
If one has to compare this film with other forms of art, "Ladies in Lavender" feels like a fine piece of vintage literature, transfered on screen and complemented with exquisite acting and gorgeous music. At the same time, it is so much "slice-of-life" story thanks to meticulous nuances in depicting the characters' lifestyle and subtle performances of the film's main stars.
Contrary to some reviews, I don't have an impression that the story is deficient or lacks in details. I find it rather complete and coherent. Moreover, I think that giving any additional background information on the characters would have only diluted the story. The director's objective is clearly to focus on the internal feelings of the two old sisters and for that enough information is provided in their own comments. After all, it's not the story of the stranger that is so important; but the story of their loneliness and attachment to this young man that is the cornerstone of the plot.
Not as shattering as some more action-driven movies, this film is a good treat for those who want to get away from the din of our modern life and enjoy some excellent music for precious one and a half hours.
Who but Dames Judi Dench and Maggie Smith could play elderly sisters
who don't particularly agree too much with each other's conventions
utlizing such subtle acting talents? The script is terrific with lines
thatare worthy of both great British stage and screen actors.
Supporting characters present fine performances as well.
It's terrific to have such a quality drama that is true to the real lives of senior women who live in another culture outside of my own in the US. Forget all of the nonsensical bleeping of scripts loaded with cursing (even though I am no prude!). Such scripts lack the integrity of presentation of a superior English lexicon. Forget the loud, fast paced action that appeals to more violence-craving audiences than me. Forget wacky comics who'd use all sorts of gimmicks and graphics to create anything but a character close to any culture's true life.
Have a good look at the very strengths that abound in the whole of this film. The story plot line is a excellent one, I assure you. It goes like this: The ladies in lavender find a body of a young man barely still alive on the rocky, rough surf, beach in front of their old home. They take him in and nurse him to health. He turns out to be an extraordinarily gifted individual. When it is discovered that he is, the ladies have to face a harsh reality in order for him to realize his potential.
It is comparable to "Tea with Mussolini" in both quality of script, story, and especially cast. How it slipped under popularity radar when "Tea . . ." didn't, is a mystery. This is a film that needs to be viewed by any age group of people. There's nothing about it a child couldn't understand and plenty about it that senior people would relate to, as well. "Whales of August" with Bette Davis and Lillian Gish is a superior treasure.
I saw Ladies In Lavender recently, and I was going in expecting a boring film, but when I came out, I was pleasantly surprised. The film was...how do I put it...beautiful. Amazing direction. Charles Dance directs with a passion keeping everything important in shot at all times, the mise-en-scene was so mesmerizing. And the script he adapted from a real short story was amazing, just so touching. Brilliant performances from Dame Judi Dench and Dame Maggie Smith. I smell BAFTAs for this film for categories like Best British Film, Best Director, Best Screenplay, Best Music, Best Cinematography and a Best actress award for either Dench or Smith. The film was fantastic! Come February, we'll see Awards for Ladies In Lavender from Worldwide Festivals! GOOD LUCK, LADIES IN LAVENDER!!
When you have a cast headlined by Judi Dench and Maggie Smith, your
film is going to do well with their names alone. LADIES IN LAVENDER is
saved by these two ladies and their screen presence and the
ping-pong-like banter with each other.
The two veteran actresses play Janet (Smith) and Ursula (Dench,) two sisters living a comfortable and mundane life in Cornwall, England in 1936. Janet is a widow and Ursula is a spinster. Their lives are altered when a mysterious young Polish man (Daniel Bruhl)washes up on the beach near their home. They take him in, aid in his recovery from an accident that is never explained, and learn that he is a gifted violinist. Their comfort zone, which is already disturbed, becomes more so when a young German female painter (Natascha McElhone)also shows an interest in the young man.
Like in TEA WITH MUSSOLINI, Maggie Smith's character is the more level-headed and pragmatic, while Judi Dench's Ursula is overly-sensitive and borderline childlike. Miriam Margoyles does a great job as their rough-around-the-edges housekeeper and David Warner, who played "that undertaker of a manservant" in TITANIC, plays an equally creepy character in this film as the town's doctor.
The movie is far from perfect (Ebert and Roeper just gave it "two thumbs down," but it is enjoyable. It is just one little slice in the lives of all of these characters, not giving the viewer much history or much closure at the end. The most poignant sideline is the love that Ursula starts to feel for this young man and, though he is in his 20's and she is in her 70's, you are reminded that one really can't choose who one loves, even when the love is as inconvenient and impossible as this. However, I do agree with the 2 professional critics when they said that Maggie Smith "didn't have a lot to do in this film." This is true. Usually she is just the motherly voice of reason when Dench's character is acting irrational.
When I was at the theater there were many, many senior citizens in the audience. I heard many positive comments from my fellow audience members when the film ended and I think several could relate to the two ladies in the story. As for myself (and in my early 30's) I am still glad I saw it.
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