Reviews of Recent Independent, Foreign, & Documentary Films in Theaters and DVD/Home Video

Maggie Smith (left) and Judi Dench
as Janet and Ursula Widdington
Photo: Roadside Attractions

Directed & Written by: Charles Dance, based on the short story by William J. Locke.
Produced by: Nicolas Brown, Elizabeth Karlsen & Nik Powell.
Director of Photography: Peter Biziou.
Edited by: Michael Parker.
Music by: Nigel Hess.
Released by: Roadside Attractions.
Country of Origin: UK. 104 min. Rated: PG-13.
With: Judi Dench, Maggie Smith, Natascha McElhone, Miriam Margolyes, David Warner & Daniel Bruhl.

Looking out of her window onto the beach below her home, Ursula Widdington spies a washed-up body. She and her sister Janet discover the castaway is still alive. The young man, Andrea (Daniel Bruhl), is barely out of his teens and doesn’t speak English. While convalescing in their home on the Cornwall coast, he inadvertently gains control of the household. Who takes care of him becomes a point of contention between the two spinsters. “I was the one who saw him first,” pouts Ursula. Likewise, Janet resents her sister’s efforts to teach the man English. But unlike Janet, Ursula has never been in love.

The opening slow-motion shots of the two women frolicking on a sunny beach might cause trepidation. But the flustered and at times fierce performances by Judi Dench and Maggie Smith dispel any lingering preciousness. Both stars are playing variations of roles they have played before (for Dench, in Mrs. Brown; for Smith, most recently Gosford Park). Smith has countless ways up her sleeve to be haughtily dismissive. As Ursula, Dench has the more ambiguous role, at one point maternal toward the recuperating youth, and at another, behaving like a giddy teenager. She's at her most moving when stricken with panic and confusion. But Bruhl is not in their league. What could have been an expressive, almost silent performance is instead taciturn. He's a blank slate. The film is also on less firm ground when it strays from the sisters, such as when Andrea's talents as a musical virtuoso arouse the interest of another foreigner, the well-connected bohemian painter Olga (Natascha McElhone).

Writer/director Charles Dance has expanded what is apparently a slender story, yet Andrea and Olga's relationship is underwritten. Set ominously in 1939, a subplot hinting at the villagers' xenophobic suspicion toward the two German-speaking outsiders is diffused. Dance often has his characters repeat the same actions - Ursula looks wistfully out the window, and Janet chides and protects her. After having well established how Ursula feels toward Andrea, a late-night call she pays to her patient-turned-houseguest overstates the obvious. Kent Turner
April 29, 2005



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