Ladies in Lavender

An Illusion Review by Joan Ellis


            There are times, especially and for example, on a dark, cold Sunday in May when nothing will do but a movie.  If you are lucky at such a time, you might find “Ladies in Lavender,” so completely a mood piece that it lifts you right out of the real world into its own.  And when you come out, you’re likely to wonder where you are.  You have been in Cornwall.   

            When Maggie Smith and Judi Dench are the two people inviting us into their house at the water’s edge, not much more need be said.  These two consummate professionals are friends in real life, sisters in the movie, and co-conspirators in making a film in which not terribly much happens but is greatly touching nonetheless.  

            Two elderly ladies, Ursula (Judi Dench) and Janet (Maggie Smith) potter about enjoying their flowers, their knitting, the wireless, and wading in the sea.  In the old wooden house, Dorcas (Miriam Margolyes), their cranky cook, puts meals on the table and comments on everything that trespasses on her field of vision.  On this day, sitting on the sand as the waves roll roughly in, Ursula spots a body that has washed onto a boulder on the shore.  It is a boy; he is alive, and they will tend him carefully and lovingly until he gets well and breaks their hearts.  This is a very nice boy who has no intention of breaking hearts,  but nothing in life, especially a good thing, stays the same for more than a moment and try as we may, we can’t hold on to anything.

            The grouchy Dorcas observes and comments; Janet teaches English to the Polish Andrea (Daniel Bruhl).  Ursula falls in love with him.  It’s useless to try to define the kind of love she feels except to say that it is heartfelt and complete, the kind of love that makes you want to help someone.   They buy the boy a suit, feed him, and help him heal.  The very young Daniel Bruhl manages to make Andrea charming, shy, kind, and without guile.  He turns the story into a fairy tale.  Andrea’s quiet passion for playing the violin beautifully (it is actually played by Joshua Bell) brings a new beauty to Ursula, Janet, and Dorcas; and it brings good natured hell raising to the crowd at the local pub.  The pub scenes are filmed in a soft, golden light that renders the populace in Old Master tones.  Enhancing the fairy tale, each man at the bar is as handsome as the landscape, whatever his age.

            It’s a wisp of a story - small, timeless and British:  two elderly sisters, a cottage by the sea, a crusty cook, the castaway and his future – The gift of this film is the sight of Maggie Smith and Judi Dench playing seamlessly together for our pleasure.  They capture us instantly and turn the wisp to magic. 


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