Monday, June 26, 2006

There Is Nothing Like A Dame – Joan Plowright Dazzles In “Mrs. Palfrey At The Claremont”

Ty Burr is a gifted movie reviewer who writes for the Boston Globe. I not only respect his opinion about movies, I also admire his artistic sensibilities as a writer. He is fun to read, because he is an artist using words on the page to illuminate art that others have created for the screen. His review of the film, “Mrs. Palfrey at the Claremont,” convinced me that this was a film worth seeing. As he usually is in such matters, he was on target in his review.

The link below will bring you to a collection of Burr’s reviews in the Boston Globe. Since his review of “Mrs. Palfrey” is letter perfect, I won’t gild the lily and attempt to retell what he has already laid out so beautifully. I recommend that you read Ty’s review and then return to continue with my account of seeing this film.

At the outset of my talking about the delight I felt in watching this unassuming little film, I must admit to having a strong inclination and predisposition to love any movie that stars one of several British actresses who have attained the status of “Dame”! Dame Maggie Smith, Dame Judy Dench, and now, Dame Joan Plowright represent for me the finest of the tradition of British stage and screen acting. (I draw the line at “Dame” Edna!!!) I will go out of my way to see any film in which these fine actors appear. This criterion for deciding to see a film stood me in good stead last evening as I traveled to West Newton to see a screening of “Mrs. Palfrey at the Claremont.”

How can I best describe this film to you? Imagine a small, delicate and lovely antique engagement ring. The band is simple in design, fashioned of a brushed white gold metal that gives off a warmly lustrous reflection. The setting that holds the diamond is uncomplicated and utilitarian – hardly noticeable at all. The gem is of a modest size and represents a traditional cut – not a gaudy marquis or a fancy emerald cut, but a classic “round brilliant” presentation. The gem is perfect is its color and clarity - its flawless facets fashioned beautifully to capture and disperse in prismatic splendor the smallest ray of light. The ring has been lovingly handed down from generation to generation and whispers of fires of love long ago ignited, now blazing, now banked, now smoldering, and finally fading into gently glowing embers cooled by the breath of mortality. The ring is an endless circle that ties memory of past loves to the reality of present day solitude and the hope for a meaningful connection that touches the heart.

This is the image I have of this gem of a film. I watched with wonder, joy, nostalgia, and finally a deep sense of loss as fate brought together for a brief season the irrepressible Mrs. Palfrey and her unlikely young friend, Ludovic, a.k.a. “grandson” Desmond – only to separate them in a denouement that seemed inevitable from the first frame of the film.

There is a scene that remains planted firmly and vividly in my memory. Mrs. Palfrey has fallen on the sidewalk and lies in a heap. Ludovic, the young man who inhabits a seedy basement flat, sees her fall and runs to her aid – inviting her to come and sit to catch her breath. He sees that she has scraped her knee and is bleeding. Ignoring her gentle protestations that she is fine, he rubs disinfectant into the wound. It is clear that this proudly self-sufficient widow has not felt the touch of a gentle human hand since the death of her husband - her beloved Arthur. And the touch of this young man re-ignites in her a hope for a real connection to another human being and a chance for an escape from the prison of solitude that the Claremont Hotel had become for her. In my reading of this scene, the application of the disinfectant stands as a metaphor for the balm for the soul that the friendship between them becomes – bringing healing and solace both to the old lady and to the young man.

I do not know how I would have responded to such a film twenty years ago, but at this stage in life, the story moved me deeply and left me feeling as if I had just experienced a near perfect telling of a story that is both simple and profound – the story of an ephemeral connection that was able to bridge a chasm several generations in breadth. The acting by Joan Plowright and Rupert Friend is understated and superb!

In the Boston area, the film is currently showing in West Newton, the Kendall Cinema in Cambridge and the Dedham Community Theater. It is worth making a special trip – either to the theater now or to rent the DVD when it is released in that format in a few weeks.



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