Film Review: Ladies in Lavender (2004)

“He might like some of my bottled pears”

A world where the purchase of pilchards instead of coley is the height of excitement seems about right for Ladies in Lavender, the 2004 film written and directed by Charles Dance, from a short story by William J Locke. In a sleepy Cornish fishing village, sisters Janet and Ursula Widdington are living out their days in content co-habitation but the discovery of a shipwreck victim on the beach near their house rumples their quiet existence as they nurse the foreigner back to health.

It’s all very genteel and formally unexciting, the writing veers from soapy contrivances to unsatisfying denouements and it’s hard to get too excited about the film. Where Ladies in Lavender delivers in bucketloads is in casting Maggie Smith and Judi Dench as the sisters, allowing them to work wonders with the slightest of material. Smith’s forthright war widow and Dench’s more wistful spinster imbue their scenes with such aching grace, that you almost forgive the plotting. 

They communicate with Daniel Brühl’s Andrea in German, a dicey decision in 1936, but he turns out to be a Polish violinist. And Natascha McElhone’s visitor just happens to be the sister of a renowned conductor etc etc it all ends up rather dull, even Miriam Margoyles can’t inject life into the movie as the harrumphing woman who does for them. And to cap it all off, the final act doesn’t work at all, leaving this delightful pair of Dames stranded in a rather undignified state of affairs.

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