Mrs. Palfrey at the Claremont
2005, NR, 108 min. Directed by Dan Ireland. Starring Joan Plowright, Rupert Friend, Zoe Tapper, Anna Massey, Robert Lang, Marcia Warren, Georgina Hale.
REVIEWED By Toddy Burton, Fri., June 2, 2006
Mrs. Palfrey at the Claremont attempts a character study full of bittersweet hope and endearing chuckles. Unfortunately, the result is high melodrama, at once patronizing and predictable. The story follows genteel Mrs. Palfrey (the regal Plowright), a 70-ish widow seeking a life where she won’t burden her emotionally absent daughter. Her solution presents itself in the form of London’s Claremont Hotel. Essentially a rest home, the Claremont houses a series of conspicuously zany characters, never evoking an actual hotel that would exist anywhere outside of, well, the movies. Eventually, Mrs. P. contacts her grandson in hopes of receiving a guest, but the weeks pass, and the poignancy of his silence is made all the more evident by the chattering questions of the gossipy residents. Then adventure presents itself in the form of Ludo (Friend), a twentysomething aspiring writer who comes to the aid of Mrs. P. when she stumbles outside his apartment. With his swashbuckling hair and dreamy eyes, Friend is mostly recognizable as the wicked Mr. Wickham from the latest incarnation of Pride and Prejudice. He uses his powers for good and not evil this time around. Like most aspects of this film, Ludo’s character is oversaturated with earnestness and sugary romanticism. How many sexy young rebels do you know who would clamor to befriend an aging widow? Regardless, the two become fast friends, sealing their relationship even further when Ludo agrees to pose as Mrs. P’s absent grandson for the Claremont residents. While Mrs. P. imparts wisdom about a life well lived, Ludo’s artistic inspiration flourishes. The film is an adaptation of British writer Elizabeth Taylor’s novel. While the movie feels awkwardly out of time, the novel is set in the 1950s, an era in which an aspiring writer would clack away on a rickety typewriter without suggesting affected movie characterization. Indeed director Ireland (The Whole Wide World) has stated that the only reason for the film’s contemporary revision was budgetary. The result, however, is not an adaptation but an awkward retelling that would have been much improved with not only a healthy dose of realism, but a screenwriter who would laugh at lines such as, “We were weeping so shamelessly there was nothing else to do but fall in love,” instead of putting them in the script. While the compelling Plowright competently flexes her well-trained muscle, the film’s melodrama too readily evokes a Lifetime Original Movie rather than subtle sentiment.