A review of “Ladies in Lavender” by Jeanne Aufmuth

 

Stars: ***

Rating: PG-13 for language and adult suggestion

Run Time: 1 hour, 55 minutes

 

 

The great Dames of English theater create cinema magic in this sweet trifle of an indie.

Veterans Maggie Smith and Judi Dench are the perfect bookends, spinster sisters Janet and Ursula Widdington who live an insular life in a quiet coastal town outside of Cornwall circa 1936.

Life is safe and predictable, based on the simple dramas of volatile weather, daily beachcombing and delicious teas prepared by cantankerous housekeeper Mrs. Dorcas (the magnificent Miriam Margolyes). 

Until the fateful day when the sisters find a handsome young stranger washed up on their beach and badly injured.  The pair takes him under their wing and nurses him back to health with the help of the village doctor (David Warner as Dr. Mead).  Project!

It all seems innocent enough; a friend in need and all that rot.  But young Andrea’s presence (Goodbye Lenin!’s Daniel Bruhl) causes more than a ripple of suspicion in this provincial hamlet. From his strange Polish accent to his unique talents as a violinist Andrea is “different”.

The sisters unwittingly thirst to break out of their mold and Andrea provides the excuse they need. A hornet’s nest of emotions rage where none raged before as Ursula fights dormant (and rather inappropriate) feelings of romantic longing and Janet’s maternal instincts are aroused.

A mysterious aura surrounds one of the village outsiders, a beautiful bohemian artist named Olga Danilof (Natascha McElhone) who is mesmerized by Andrea’s music (sweet strains courtesy of virtuoso Joshua Bell) and perhaps something more.  Bad news for Dr. Mead who fancies Olga and is sniffing around in a most unseemly fashion.

Smith and Dench are pitch perfect as the core around which Ladies revolves, shifting with pathos and sentiment.  As the unexpected male presence who unintentionally causes discord Bruhl is impishly innocent and charismatic.

Subtext abounds; of sexuality, danger and regret.  Ladies is a creeping Morning Glory of a film, slowly blossoming into its unkempt beauty. Natural flow is interrupted by actor Charles Dance’s spotty direction but his winsome story (based on a short story by William J. Lock) is crafted with care.