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Ladies In Lavender (DVD)
Member Name: sunmeilan
Ladies In Lavender (DVD)
Advantages: Touching and intriguing story, beautiful scenery, great performances
Disadvantages: Slightly disappointing ending
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
Summary: Don't be put off by the title