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From time to time, Amazon recommends various films to me based on others I have rated. I can only assume that it suggested 'My House in Umbria' because I have liked other films featuring Dame Maggie Smith. I had never heard of it, but it sounded like an interesting film so I put it on my wishlist, and was given it by a relative last Christmas.
Maggie Smith is, indeed, absolutely brilliant in this film. She stars as the romantic novelist Emily Delahunty who is is a likeable, quirky kind of person. We only learn gradually that she has an ugly and sordid past. I'm not sure that this knowledge really adds anything to the plot, other than to show the contrast with her current wealthy and altruistic lifestyle.
Emily is on her way to Rome by train, and just getting to know the other people in her carriage. Suddenly - and I knew this was coming from the blurb, but it was still a shock - a terrorist bomb explodes, killing four passengers. It also seriously injures others - including Emily - and leaves a child as an orphan.
I assume that this film, which was originally made for TV, is set in about the 1950s. My assumption is based on the cars, an old-fashioned record player and some general props from that era. It moves at that kind of pace, which is fine for me; I get confused when films have rapid action. It's primarily a character-based story, too. As the survivors recover, Emily invites them - including the orphaned Aimee - to stay at her house in Umbria. There, in idyllic surroundings, they all begin to find some measure of healing... at least, they do until Aimee's rather cold uncle arrives to take care of her.
There is some stunningly gorgeous scenery in this film. There is also some wonderful acting by Dame Maggie, who was almost 70 when this was made in 2003; yet her character could easily pass for 60 or less. I was also very impressed with Ronnie Barker: he plays an elderly general who lost his daughter in the explosion. It's a far cry from his usual humorous roles for which he is better known.
Emmy Clark as Aimee is a bit two-dimensional and difficult to feel much empathy for, but then her character is clearly suffering from what we would now call post-traumatic stress disorder. She and Emily strike up an odd friendship, based perhaps on their mutual neediness, and it works well.
It's a shocking plot in some ways, portrayed in an otherwise gentle, attractive setting, but there are one or two moments of humour amidst the darkness. There is also a wonderful inspector (Giancarlo Giannini) who is quite determined to get to the bottom of the explosion. I wasn't sure that I entirely understood the political ramifications when it was eventually explained... but it didn't much matter.
I suppose my only slight niggle with this film is that Emily's character becomes increasingly strange towards the end. No longer so kind and altruistic, she seems to force confidences and also drinks too heavily - something that seems unconnected to her earlier character. Perhaps it would make more sense if I read the novel - for this story is based on one of the same name, by William Trevor.
Still, overall the film flows nicely, and we both found ourselves caught up entirely with the diverse people as they gradually blended together into a little family. The ending, if a little unlikely, is entirely satisfying and left us with a pleasant feeling.
There are no extras on this DVD other than a brief original trailer. The only subtitles available are English for the hard of hearing.
'My House in Umbria' runs for about 100 minutes - not that we were aware of the time as it passed, and it was quite a shock to return to our living room as the credits rolled. The film is rated 12 in the UK, which seems about right to me, given the flashbacks of past abuse in Emily's life. I doubt if it would be of much interest to anyone under the age of about 14 or 15 anyway. But to adults and older teens who enjoy a gentle, scenic and quite moving story, I would recommend this highly.
Amazon UK are currently selling this DVD for £4.25, plus postage where applicable; Play.com have it new from various stockists, starting at £3.61, with free postage to the UK or anywhere in Europe.
(Review modified from one I originally wrote for my DVD reviews blog suesdvdreviews.blogspot.com. Also on Ciao)