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In 1930s Britain, elderly sisters, Ursula and Janet, live a peaceful life in their family home on the Cornish coast. Then one day they see what looks like a body on the shore...and indeed it is. Thankfully, he is still alive and they arrange for him to be taken to their house, where they nurse him back to health. His name is Andrea and he is Polish. In time, they discover he is a talented violinist, but they are so determined to keep him with them that they don't tell him about something that would give him an opportunity for a better life. They also try to keep him away from the beautiful Olga, an artist who lives in a nearby cottage. Will they be able to keep him away from temptation? Or are they destined for heartbreak? And are the villagers' suspicions about Andrea correct?
The two sisters are played by Judi Dench (Ursula) and Maggie Smith (Janet). As can be expected from two such talented actresses, they give amazing performances. I think Judi Dench as Ursula has the edge, mainly because it is her character that has such a range of emotion. Ursula, a spinster, really falls in love with Andrea and suffers dreadfully with her feelings - she knows that her behaviour is wrong, but she really cannot help herself. Maggie Smith as Janet is much more sensible and, although excellent in the role, I was immediately reminded of her role in the Harry Potter films. Nevertheless, the two actresses work together superbly and it is very easy to believe that they are sisters in the 1930s.
Andrea is played by Daniel Bruhl and gives a more than competent performance. He is not an actor with whom I am familiar, probably because he didn't have much of an acting career outside Germany before this film. However, this film appears to have helped him make his name here and in the US. I wasn't overwhelmed by his acting, but it is good and slots in nicely with the rest of the cast. Natascha McElhone plays Olga and is also competent, although her role is rather mysterious and a little bit condescending - I'm not sure how much of that was the role and how much was her own personality, but it made for uncomfortable viewing at times. It was a great pleasure to see Miriam Margolyes as the elderly sisters' housekeeper - the role seemed made for it - and Freddie Jones (Sandy in Emmerdale) and Toby Jones as villagers.
It is never really clear where this film is going. Initially, it seems as though it is going to be a love story - either an unrequited one between Ursula and Andrea or a passionate love affair between Andrea and Olga. Then there is the suspicion of the villagers - maybe Andrea is not quite as innocent as he appears to be. This intrigue is highly entertaining and is the main reason that I kept watching throughout. Based on a short story by William J Locke, it does, however, lose its way towards the end. The twist in the tale comes and then the film is over before you know it. I was somehow expecting something a little more developed; however, in hindsight, perhaps I should have just accepted the film for what it is - a charming and interesting tale set in 1930s England.
Set in 1930s Cornwall, there are lots of opportunities for beautiful shots of scenery and country living, and director Charles Dance has made the most of it. The sisters live in a beautiful house just above the shore, so there are some lovely shots across the bay. I really enjoyed the attention to detail in the decor and clothes - most of the clothes are quite drab and practical, but there is a dance where the women are dressed more attractively and there are some great hats. There's also an old car that the sisters drive, which is clearly on its last legs. It all comes together very well, representing a peaceful time of life just before the Second World War began. Many times, I was reminded of the TV version of Poirot, probably because of the time period and the gossipy villagers.
The script, written by Charles Dance, is good, although not outstanding. That isn't a problem most of the time because the charm of the story is based on the actions of the characters; the sisters in particular are able to portray whole ranges of emotions without all that many words. I do think that Andrea and Olga could have done with some more dialogue though. The relationship between them seems forced and rather strange at times and some verbal explanation would have been welcome. Then again, perhaps that's exactly what Charles Dance intended. I'm not sure why he decided on 'Ladies in Lavender' for a title though - I know it is the name of the short story on which it is based, but it conjures up something much more boring than the film actually is. It certainly put me off watching it for some time.
One of the best parts of the film is the music. I love the violin and Andrea's playing provides plenty of opportunity for some beautiful music. This is one soundtrack I would be prepared to buy.
There are some extras with the DVD. There's the ubiquitous audio commentary, with Charles Dance, but the main extras are called 'soundbites' - these are brief clips of interviews with all teh main stars. I found these quite annoying, because within each actor's soundbite, it would be divided into sections, preceded by wording such as 'Judi Dench on working with Maggie Smith'. This was unnecessary and broke the flow of the interview. I would much rather that the interviews were shown as one feature.
Overall, this is a charming, enjoyable film that portrays a slice of fairly ordinary country life. It isn't outstanding, but the performances of Judi Dench and Maggie Smith in particular help it rise above anything similar. Visually, it is beautiful and aurally, it is a real delight. If you enjoy any of the lead actors, or just enjoy good, British film, then this is certainly worth a watch. It slipped into my DVD collection by accident, but I'm very glad it's there. Four stars out of five.
The DVD is available from play.com for £4.99.
Running time: 104 minutes
I watched this recently with my step mum as it was part of her mothers day present, the DVD not the getting to watch it with me and by the end we both had a tear in our eye.
The film is set in the years between the wars and focuses on two elderly sisters who live together in Cornwall. They live right on the coast and one day they discover the body of a young man washed up on shore after a violent storm. He turns out to be Polish and speaks no English and he is also a talented musician however his prescence begins to stir up concerns in the village during a time when paranoa was starting to sweep the country with regards to foreigners particularly in isolated rural communities.
This is a lovely story and an excellent showcase for the acting abilities of Dame Judi Dench and Maggie Smith. The film focuses on the tight relationship ofthe two sisters and how this is impacted upon by the arrival of the young man who they both care for to bring him back to health as he becomes a surrogate son for the two rather lonely women.
This is quite a sad film at times, hence the tears and you do feel for both the women but in particular Dench character. Visually the film is delightful and the scenery of Cornwall is well captured.
Occasionally you get a film like this where very little happens yet still you are engrossed with the performances and the dialogue and that is what made this such an enjoyable film to watch.
I'm having a bit of a season of watching Judi Dench films at the moment. I think she is one of the best British actresses around and I can't think of any film she has made that I have not enjoyed her performance. The latest film I have watched her in is Ladies in Lavender made in 2004, which is a very gentle moving film.
I didn't really know anything about the film before I watched it but I was soon caught up in the story. It is set in the 1930s and is about two elderly sisters who share a cottage situated on the Cornish coast. One day, after a particularly bad storm, they notice a body washed up on the beach. The young man is barely alive, but with the help of the local doctor, they take him into their home and slowly nurse him back to health. Their patient is a young Polish man called Andrea who speaks no English so communication at first is quite difficult. As they nurse him and help him with his English, both sisters come to dote on him as he starts to fill a gaping hole in their lives. They also discover that he is a talented violinist which also does not go unnoticed by a foreign artist staying in the village. Some others are suspicious of these foreign strangers in the village though and rumours start about spying and all sorts.
As Andrea's broken bones mend he starts to become restless, and like a small bird seems ready to flee the nest. But will the sisters want to let him go?
This is a beautifully crafted film written and directed by the very well known Charles Dance. There are many themes which are portrayed by the two wonderful actresses - Judi Dench and Maggie Smith. You cannot help but feel the tension and almost claustrophobic feel of their relationship. They are two sisters who spend all their time together and suddenly there is a stranger in their midst and they become jealous of each other, almost trying to outdo each other in what they do for their patient.
Maggie Smith is excellent as Janet. She seems the stronger of the sisters and the one who is most likely to take charge. You can sense her exasperation as her sister starts behaving quite skittishly towards Andrea. Judi Dench is magnificent as Ursula and hers is such a poignant character who has never really had the chance to love or be loved by anyone. In Andrea, she sees the chance to change all this but of course he would never love an old woman like her in the way she wants and instead seems more interested in Olga, the young artist. I was so moved by Judi Dench's performance that I was actually in tears. I just felt so sad for her.
Being set in an old Cornish village, there is a wonderful supporting cast of colourful characters who all have a part to play. My favourite is Dorcas who is the sisters' housekeeper and is played so well by Miriam Margolyes. She is very funny and droll, and her coarseness acts as a beautiful contrast to the two sisters' gentility. Andrea is played very well by Daniel Bruhl, a German actor with a lot of charm.
The film is very gentle and meanders along at a leisurely pace that would not suit everyone. However, once you start being caught up in the lives of these two lonely women you might very well lose yourself very happily for a couple of hours. If you add in some spectacular rugged Cornish coastal scenery and some haunting background music, this film has all the ingredients for very enjoyable viewing. I really loved it although I don't think for one minute that my husband would have felt the same way had he watched it with me!
I watched the film on DVD but there were no particular extras to mention apart from the usual scene selections and subtitles.
The film is currently available on Amazon for £5.89.
Set in Cornwall shortly before the outbreak of WWII, two sisters, Ursula and Janet happen upon a Polish man washed up on a beach. How he got there is anyones guess and we never find out. As we watch him being nursed back to health we, and the characters, are taken on a journey of discovery.
The element that sets this film apart from many others however is the music. Our Polish traveller has a talent that one can only marvel at and it is this which leads me to suggest that this film is a cross between the period drama that is the English Patient and the musical tale of The Piano.
Directed by Charles Dance the film has a lot to commend it. It is a fairly slow-paced film entirely in keeping with its nature. We are, in effect, watching an historic character and situation study. The scenes are shot in a sympathetic manner, making the most of the wonderful Cornish countryside. Stills at poignant moments work in the main but occasionally they seem unnecessary.
Although the main tale centres on the sisters and their patient there are several sub-plots. Unfortunately, not all of these are explored to conclusion, perhaps through lack of time, and, in my opinion, this is a shame: certain of the plots certainly warrant more time.
The cast of this film should be enough to sell it to you if you like good English drama. Dame Judi Dench plays Ursula, probably the main emotional study of the piece. She is entirely convincing through what is quite a contrived situation at times. Janet is ably played by Dame Maggie Smith who supplies just the right level of tension between the sisters. Her grounding and detachment provide the perfect antithesis to Ursulas emotion.
Daniel Bruhls take on Andrea, the Polish patient is sound. He convinces throughout the first part of the film but I felt that he fared less well later on. This may have been the story or direction however.
Joshua Bell is the unseen star of the film providing the music for Andrea. His playing is far more than confident and, for me, really lifts the film from good to superb. The original musical score is sound rather than spectacular but the playing of standard works more than makes up for this. If you enjoy good classical music you could do worse than listen in.
There is humour in the film but it is understated. Similarly the 12A rating seems to come from a single scene, which could as easily have been left out as, included. This is a film for those who like to get involved in what they are watching. Its not fast paced enough to be of interest to those who like action but its gentleness should not put off those who enjoy a good storyline. Love interests are clever rather than dominating. Many dramas of this period are depressing; this one is an exception. Theres a feel-good factor left behind at the end and many a lesson to be taken away.
The rental DVD provides no extras, just language and scene selections. This is a shame. I would have loved to have learned more about the music in particular. Given this was a directorial debut I am surprised that there was no directors commentary.
All in all though, thoroughly recommended.
Ladies in Lavender is a charming film set in Cornwall in an idyllic town, shortly before WWII broke out. The elderly Widdington sisters, Ursula (strangely non-British name?!?) and Janet lead a sedate life, though Ursula has a zest for life that remains undiminished by the years. When a Polish man is found on the beach one day, presumably from a shipwreck though no wreckage is ever found, it stirs forgotten emotions in Ursula as they nurse him back to health. This begins to cause friction between the two sisters, and when Andrea (the Polish guy) exhibits a special talent, even more tension is caused by the interest of German painter Olga, who is ostensibly just on holiday there, though others have suspicions that she is not what she seems.
This film is Charles Dance (veteran of many TV series) directorial debut, and though this shows in places, overall it is a very impressive first film for him. The pacing of the film is rather slow overall (which befits the fact that more than anything it is a character study), but the opening seemed rather rushed, perhaps indicating that he did not know quite what to do with the characters until the main protagonist was introduced. On the other hand, the very short opening scene of the two sisters gave a lot of insight into the sort of life they lead, their personalities, and their attitudes. Fade-outs and cross-fades were rather too quick as well, and use of stills in the middle of important scenes did add emphasis but were too pronounced (at one point I actually wondered if the projector had jammed!!!). These are very minor complaints overall but they were definitely noticeable. Effective use is made of both the beautiful Cornish countryside and the xenophobic attitudes prevalent in pre-WWII England. One short and totally unnecessary scene gives it a 12A rating (children under 12 years of age have to be accompanied by an adult). By the evidence of this, Dance is a Director to look out for. When a few rough edges are taken care of he could be among the best in the business.
The storyline weaves a complex tale around the three main characters and several peripheral characters, but some sub-plots just went nowhere and others felt a little contrived. The love rivalry idea did not really ring true either. But the main focus of the film was not, as you might think, Andrea, but rather the study of the character of Ursula. She is played by the amazing Judi Dench [Chocolat, Iris, The Importance of being Earnest] (one of the few actresses with the ability to carry such a role), who is absolutely incredible in this. Her portrayal of a character besieged by emotions she knows are futile but is unable to control is brilliant. With Maggie Smith [Tea with Mussolini, Gosford Park] as her older sister giving another tremendous performance, the rest of the cast hardly needed to show up for this to be a good film.
But turn up they did, and this is more than just a good film. Daniel Bruhl [who has been in various foreign films I have never heard] (Andrea) is convincing enough as a Polish man (he is actually Spanish), though his attempts at portraying playing a violin are somewhat less persuasive! He plays his part with just the right mix of vulnerability and mischievousness, though very occasionally he reacts to something microscopically before it actually happens. Overall he gives a very good performance. Natascha McElhone [The Truman Show, Solaris] (Olga) looks very exotic despite being born in Hampstead, London! Since she is basically an unpleasant and rude character, it would actually have been more satisfying if something bad had happened to her, but I guess that is just my nasty side coming out. Miriam Margoyles [Harry Potter, The Life & Death of Peter Sellers, Chasing Liberty] gets the most laughs as the extremely rustic Dorcus, the house maid.
The original musical score is good though not breathtaking. Noted violinist Joshua Bell provides the actual music for Andrea, and some of it is very good indeed, though I just cannot kick the feeling that Nigel Kennedy would have been even better. The cinematography is fantastic in places and makes Cornwall look even more gorgeous than I remember it being. The humour than runs throughout the film is mostly understated, so if you are not concentrating you miss it. So be warned, this is a film that demands your attention and if you are not willing to give it, you will not enjoy it half as much. Rural life and the period the film is set in are portrayed realistically, too.
Despite its flaws (which I have detailed in quite painful detail here... sorry!) Ladies in Lavender is a unique and quite wonderful film. I thoroughly enjoyed it and have no hesitation whatsoever giving it 5 stars. It is going to be too slow for many and there is not much action to speak of. However if you allow yourself to be caught up in the storyline you will find it quite compelling. Ladies in Lavender is one of those rare things, a subtle film, and an extremely sensitive one. Watching it is not a depressing experience though, rather an uplifting one. Fans of Smith and Dench (of which there are many) will be delighted in seeing them get roles that really befit their acting ability, unlike the recent role Dench played in Chronicles of Riddick.
So there you have it. You should know by now whether you will love it or hate it. If you are still not sure... watch it and find out!
Ladies in Lavender is exactly the sort of film that prompts people to question, "Why dont they make films like this anymore?" Its a delicately-paced story of two aging sisters--Ursula (Dame Judi Dench) and Janet (Maggie Smith--who live together on a Cornwall beach in 1936. They discover a foreign stranger washed ashore (Daniel Bruhl), and while nursing him back to health make an astonishing discovery: the young man, a Pole, is a phenomenally gifted violinist. And Ursula finds her feelings for the man go far deeper than merely maternal. Writer and director Charles Dance has crafted an admirable debut. Ladies in Lavender a tenderly done and bittersweet story of innocence and regret. Though the dialogue sometimes seems too earnest, and he has an over-reliance on slow motion cinematography, he still allows his two talented leads enough time and space to shine. Its only unfortunate that more effort did not go into the DVD release of the film: the extras only consist of soundbites from the cast and crew, which add little insight. --Ted Kord