Infirm but indomitable
"Do no let me hear
Of the wisdom of old men, but rather of their folly . . . ." T.S. Eliot
In Venus, Maurice (Peter O'Toole) is an aging thespian who meets a buddy's young housekeeper, Jessie (Jodie Whittaker), and forms a friendship partly built on his impotent, prurient interest in her as the embodiment of Velazquez's Venus and her inherent sassiness and openness, refreshing for a man who has known many artful and manipulative women. For her sake, the working-class Jessie is moved by his kindness and a respect as she discovers he is "a little famous." And caring.
Although O'Toole plays Maurice too infirm for me, he is as always a delight to watch. The script lingers too much on close ups that require no dialogue, and the dialogue is too spare for me, who wants to hear O'Toole intone like a Shakespearean with limitless time to recite. When he is talking with his friends, I would have liked spirited discourse, not just one liners about pills and parts. His lines with Jessie are limited by her lack of education in the Pygmalion tradition.
As good as Maurice and Jessie are at affectionately sparring with each other, Maurice and his ex-wife Valerie (Vanessa Redgrave) are a match to die for, perfectly modulated responses to their love, even in the face of his blundering exile from her and their child for a young actress years ago. Their affection is palpable, almost teary-eyed, as they face the end in a forgiving manner that allows only caring to dominate, not recrimination. And that low-key sentimentality is characteristic of this enjoyable film, in which old age is infirm but indomitable, longing to be more vital but accepting time's restrictions.
Jesse's growing love of Maurice, and his of her, is the visible symbol of the film's assertion that love, be it between friends, old flames, or generations, will survive another day. Seeing O'Toole once more in a meaty leading role is as well an emblem of greatness that endures beyond the physical fading to black.