Mrs. Palfrey at The Claremont

         Dame Joan Plowright, the widow of Laurence Olivier, has enjoyed great success
 as a stage actress and as a character player in feature films, even earning an Academy
 Award nomination for her supporting role in
ENCHANTED APRIL. Yet, until now, she
 has never had the lead in a motion picture. That situation has been rectified by director
 Dan Ireland who cast the septuagenarian actress in the title role of
MRS.PALFREY AT THE CLAREMONT. Although the original 1971 novel by Elizabeth
 Taylor (the author, not the violet-eyed Oscar winner) was set in the 1950s, Ireland and
 screenwriter Ruth Sacks updated the material, partly due to budgetary restrictions. A
 period piece, even one set half a century ago, would be too costly. While the story might
 have held more resonance in that time frame, what Ireland and Sacks have managed
 to do was craft a lovely and sentimental tale of a lonely woman and the young man she
 takes under her wing. To some critics, sentiment is a bad thing, but if handled with tact
 and moderation – as Ireland does – it is as welcome as a spring breeze.

         Sarah Palfrey is a widow who is determined not to be a burden to her daughter
 (Anna Carteret). Instead, inspired by an advertisement, she books a room at
 The Claremont, expecting at least a three star establishment. While The Claremont
 turns out to be slightly less than she expected, she adapts. The other residents are
 mostly elderly people living out their lives alone. Among her fellow residents are
 Mr. Osbourne (the late Robert Lang in his last role, and to whom the film is dedicated),
 who comports himself like a former military officer, the imperious Mrs. Arbuthnot (an
 astringent Anna Massey), the fading beauty Mrs. Burton (Georgina Hale), the theatrical
 Mrs. De Salis (Millicent Martin), and the inquisitive Mrs. Pose (Marcia Warren).

         Mrs. Palfrey does her best  to fit into their world which revolves around watching
 television and gossiping about one another. When Mrs. Palfrey announces that she’s
 invited her grandson Desmond (Lorcan O’Toole) to dine with her, the other guests
 await his arrival like the Second Coming. When he doesn’t materialize, the others
 begin to doubt his existence.

         By happenstance, Mrs. Palfrey tumbles on the sidewalk outside the home of
 struggling writer Ludovic Meyer (newcomer Rupert Friend, who resembles a blond
 Orlando Bloom but with more charisma and talent). Ludo and Mrs. Palfrey strike up an
 unlikely friendship, and he agrees to “play” her grandson Desmond, appearing one night
 at The Claremont for dinner. The pair forms a growing bond that serves as the heart of
 the tale.

         Of course the material is sentimental, but the acting all around elevates it to
 something quite special and enjoyable. In addition to the aforementioned cast members,
 Zoe Tapper shows up as a love interest for Ludo and the great Claire Higgins offers a
 master class in acting in her few short scenes as Ludo’s mother. But the heart and soul
 of the film rests on the chemistry between Plowright and Friend. Together they
 demonstrate that age is no barrier to friendship. It’s fitting that this movie that deals with
 themes of the legacy one leaves behind should offer Plowright one of her best screen
 roles in her career.

MRS. PALFREY AT THE CLAREMONT is a rare treat, indeed, and a crowning
 achievement for Dame Joan Plowright.

                        Rating:                               B+
                        MPAA Rating:                   NONE        
                        Running time:                   108 mins.

                                                Viewed at Magno Review One
©  2005 by C. E. Murphy. All Rights Reserved.