Mrs. Palfrey at the Claremont Movie Review
Mrs. Palfrey (Dame Joan Plowright) has decided to settle into the two-star Claremont Hotel in London's Lancaster Gate in order to be closer to her grandson and to assert a final bit of independence before her inevitable final decline. The rather dreary establishment turns out to be populated by a handful of lonely old-timers who sit solo at their assigned tables in the dining room and check each other out. Their main amusement seems to be gossiping about each other.
After weeks of waiting for her distracted grandson Desmond to return her calls and pay her a visit, Mrs. Palfrey starts to have trouble convincing the other residents that he actually exists. (Most of them also tell stories of beloved relatives who haven't stopped by yet.) Just then, she's lucky enough to fall on the sidewalk outside the basement apartment of the dashing young Ludovic (Rupert Friend), a starving writer/street busker who assists her and then strikes up a fast friendship. Mrs. Palfrey comes up with the idea of inviting him to dinner at the Claremont and presenting him as her grandson, and he's up for the adventure. The more he talks to Mrs. Palfrey, the more he realizes that her stories of days gone by may be the key to unlocking his writer's block.
And so he becomes Desmond, and she becomes "Sasa," his beloved grandmother, and their lives become symbiotically intertwined. He eases her loneliness and makes her feel young again. She delivers life lessons ("Never waste a single moment") and snaps him out of his existential funk. She quotes Wordsworth. He quotes Blake. She regales him with stories of her happy marriage. He makes up songs for her. It's all very sweet and very British.
Eventually, of course, the real grandson shows up (along with Mrs. Palfrey's harridan of a daughter), and everything is thrown into a tizzy as the movie glides along to an unsurprising and inevitable conclusion. Still, even without shocking plot developments, Mrs. Palfrey is never dull. Plowright is one of the greats, and she's wonderful at depicting Mrs. Palfrey's anger at her old age and widowhood. Friend, too, is excellent. Ludo is little too good to be true perhaps (would any 26-year-old really embrace this kind of friendship?), but Friend is charming throughout and shows no sign of sharing every scene with a living legend... and the widow of Olivier, no less. Pour yourself a cup of Earl Grey and enjoy.
Let's wear scarves today.