|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
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.
MPAA Rating: NONE
Running time: 108 mins.
Viewed at Magno Review One
|© 2005 by C. E. Murphy. All Rights Reserved.