Wed June 21, 2006
Mrs. Palfrey at the Claremont
Hoping for Ealing Studios' Magic
By John DeSando, WCBE's "It's Movie Time"
"The time is past, /And all its aching joys are now no more." Wordsworth
The idea of an elderly lady moving to an old London residential hotel grieving the loss of her late husband and seeking to be near her grandson demands a supply of tissues. Mrs. Palfrey at the Claremont makes that demand with fewer tears than you might expect. Joan Plowright carries enough dignity and understatement to override the cliches and make an endearing if not terribly compelling titular character.
Usually the eccentrics around her would pick up the humor slack, but the old denizens of that old hotel are mostly caricatures with not much natural wit: For example, the wispy, bug-eyed dinner neighbor is inquisitive and ready to die; the slightly distinguished, over-eating and drinking older man asks her to marry him for mutual self-preservation. There are other characters but none memorable and all obviously injected to make this film qualify as a comedy, hoping some of the '50's Ealing Studios magic could be this film's.
Mrs. Palfrey's accidental friendship with a hunky, struggling writer Ludovic (Rupert Friend) provides the requisite sweet philosophizing and naughty hint of Harold and Maude. Alas, no intergenerational sex, just growing respect and support. The inattention of her real grandson Desmond allows her peering neighbors to believe that Ludovic is Desmond. But don't think for a minute the film is in Oscar Wilde territory, for it has none of the playwright's wit. The closest allusion would be one Ludovic makes about the characters in the hotel being out of a Terrence Rattigan play.
At a cost of $750K, Mrs. Palfrey at the Claremont is a bargain. The production values may not be first-rate, some takes may need to be redone, but the spirit of an older woman still valuable and loveable serves a nice counterpoint to our youth-celebrated century. However, no one can ignore the sentimentality and forced romanticism of lines such as this: "We were weeping so shamelessly there was nothing else to do but fall in love."
John DeSando teaches film at Franklin University and co-hosts WCBE 90.5's "It's Movie Time," which can be heard streaming at www.wcbe.org Fridays at 3:01 pm and 8:01 pm and on demand anytime. Contact him at JDeSando@Columbus.RR.com