Ladies in Lavender Movie Review

Hear about a movie starring Maggie Smith and Judi Dench, and it's pretty obvious what you're going to get, and it's not going to be car chases and bank heists. Two of the grandest dames of the screen star in Ladies in Lavender, a scenic, charming, and quaint tale set in the 1930s. It's the kind of movie many English filmmakers specialize in.

Sisters Janet (Smith) and Ursula (Dench) Widdington live a quiet and active life in their spacious seaside house in Cornwall when a young man washes up on shore. The sisters take him in as a boarder and immediately take a liking to Andrea (Daniel Brühl), a Polish violin maestro who can't speak a word of English. The sisters soon grow close to Andrea, with Janet acting like a concerned mother, while the never married Ursula quietly falls in love with the hunky Andrea.

Another wrinkle in the story is the young man's ability as a violinist, which captures the attention of Olga (Natascha McElhone), a visiting painter whose brother is a prominent violinist. Olga appreciates Andrea's ability and offers him a wondrous opportunity, if Janet and Ursula's love of his companionship doesn't get in the way.

Dench and Smith give thoughtful, dignified performances, and the movie's superficial aspects, notably the music and the scenery, are beautiful. There's a lot of emotional conflict in the plot with the sisters' love of Andrea as well as the local doctor's infatuation with Olga; what's odd is that director/writer Charles Dance (yes, he's from England) mutes it. He handles the movie with a certain amount of decorum and class, which is admirable, if not a bit boring. At not one point does Ladies in Lavender reach an actual conflict, a situation Dench and Smith could excel at. It ambles along with shots of flowers and verdant fields, hoping not to offend grandmothers and Merchant-Ivory fans. More times than not, the movie resembles an onscreen painting.

It's not there's anything wrong with Ladies in Lavender in and of itself, which is as low-key and folksy as the upcoming batch of summer blockbusters will be loud and violent. Like those blockbusters, there are good versions of this kind of movie (Enchanted April, I Capture the Castle) and bad ones (The Mystic Masseur). Ladies in Lavender falls right in the middle. Its performances and production values distinguish it. Dance's inability or reluctance to infuse his characters or the story with a charge mars its chances. If you want proof, watch the movie, then read the plot on the film's website. You'll feel as if you attended the wrong movie, and you don't even get a car chase out of it.

Who brought the potato salad?


Ladies in Lavender Rating

" Weak "

Rating: PG-13, 2004


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