Nothing Like a Dame

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We took our seats at Cinema City for Nothing Like a Dame, a film that captures four great thespian dames – Judi Dench, Maggie Smith, Joan Plowright and Eileen Atkins – in conversation. We had great expectations and we weren’t disappointed. All the director had to do was point the camera, say ‘action’, sit back and watch them rock. And rock they did with gossipy warmth, wit and insight, humour, naughtiness and modesty – without a hint of the pompous luvviness you might expect from these titans of the stage. It really hit me when I released that Joan Plowright, who could out-act anyone with just a look, is now blind. I had no idea. Despite this, the film was a voyeuristic joy, and it was a privilege to see it.

And so, in the best pansies tradition, here’s the trailer…

Ladies in Lavender

Ladies in Lavender

I’m a sucker for an old dame, particularly those two old Dames Judi and Maggie. They light up my screen.  My all-time fave is Tea with Mussolini, a regular winter warmer on a chilly night. But any film with them in will do. I’m not fussy.

Ladies in Lavender PosterA less well-known screen outing for the pair was Ladies in Lavender, a tender tale of two elderly sisters living quietly in a Cornish fishing village during the thirties who scoop up a handsome young Pole from the beach after he was swept overboard during a storm. They nurse him to health, causing a stir among the locals – and the stirring of long repressed feelings for sister Ursula, played by Judi. The whole thing is a joy to watch, a moral tale of a rescue without hesitation or fear of an economic migrant washed up on a foreign shore. Rather relevant today, don’t you think? And there’s a real Billy Elliot moment at the end that gets me every time. So, when the stage version of the film came to Norwich’s Maddermarket Theatre, we just had to see it (even though neither Dame was in it, obviously).

It was a sterling effort from the cast with the best lines reserved for the housekeeper and delivered with great comic timing. The performance got an enthusiastic hand at the end but I couldn’t help wondering if the message was lost on the mostly elderly audience with their curls, pearls and comfy lives. I hope I’m wrong.

The Lady in the Van

The Lady in the Van

The Lady in the Van PosterI’ve always admired Alan Bennett’s writing – witty, insightful, dead pan and very British. He has a remarkable knack of making magic from the ordinary and finding humour in the humdrum. If only I had a fraction of his talent. So when the adaptation of his play ‘The Lady in the Van’ was released, we bought our tickets and nudged politely past the grey herd at Cinema City, fruity red in hand. ‘The Lady in the Van’ is the far from ordinary tale of a crabby old woman living in a battered Bedford van squatting in the driveway of Alan Bennett’s North London home. He offered a parking space for three months. She stayed for fifteen years. Alex Jennings’ portrayal of the unsentimental and stoic author is uncanny and Maggie Smith as the aromatic old eccentric with a van-load of dark secrets is splendid. Top notch film acting is all in the eyes and the delivery. Maggie Smith lit up the screen with both. I feel a BAFTA coming on.

The clever script, littered with crisp one-liners, gradually unveils the old girl’s back story and, in doing so, reveals quite a lot about the author himself. To write any more would only spoil the plot. The supporting cast playing the hand-wringing Camden Town socialistas, desperate to see the back of the old bag, is rock-solid. There are some nice cameos from a few of the former pupils from Alan Bennett’s ‘History Boys’ too.

Here’s the trailer…

My Old Lady

My Old LadyA foul afternoon of driving rain pushed us through the doors of Cinema City to catch ‘My Old Lady’, starring Kevin Kline, Kristen Scott Thomas and the incomparable Maggie Smith. We sat in the back row and watched the film above the nodding heads in fifty shades of grey. Kevin Kline plays a penniless, ex-alcoholic, never-to-be-published New York author who inherits a rambling run down Parisian apartment from his philandering father. He thinks he’s in the money but finds out that he’s also inherited a sitting tenant in an equity release arrangement, French-style; she can’t be evicted and he must pay rent to her. Step forward Dame Maggie as the feisty old madame with her foot in the door and Kirsten Scott Thomas as her brittle spinster daughter. It’s a salutary tale of how your parents fuck you up (along the lines of the Philip Larkin poem) and how not to let the truth get in the way of a fine romance. Set in the trendy Marais district of Paris, the BBC production oozes cool Gallic va va voom laced with arty pretensions. The film has had mixed reviews but we found it well worth stepping out of the rain for.

The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel

The-best-exotic-marigold-hotelI wanted to see ‘The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel’ when it was released in 2012. It’s my kind of film but not the kind that got a screening at the plush cinema in Bodrum which tended to focus on Hollywood blockbusters, more’s the pity. We could have lifted a dodgy download from the enterprising Low Countries couple who did a roaring trade in counterfeit DVDs for the emigreys but I’m rather anti the whole it’s-not-really-stealing thing. Actually, it is. So, I was resigned to stalking the bargain bucket to acquire a proper copy at a knock-down rather than a knock-off price. My patience was rewarded and we picked up the film for a song at our local Norwich HMV store.

We uncorked the wine, turned off the lights and put our feet up. It was well worth the long wait. The tall tale is about a disparate group of cash-strapped Brits who up sticks, drop off their excess baggage at check-in and travel to the sun to eke out a low-cost dotage in an emigrey enclave (in this case, a run-down retirement hotel in India). Sounds strangely familiar and not so tall after all. The funny and tender script, heaving with sharp one-liners and set against the glorious chaos of the sub-continent, is delivered with expert thespian timing by the outstanding cast (including that pair of incomparable old Dames – Judi and Maggie). I didn’t want it to end

Let Dame Judi tell it as it is:

“There’s no past that we can bring back by longing for it, only a present that builds and creates itself as the past withdraws.”

Did the old wrinklies heed the advice and find redemption and contentment? Do any of us? Now, that would be telling.

Quartet

QuartetAnything Maggie Smith does is alright with me. She could break wind on screen and I’d give her a standing ovation. She’s just my kind of actress, like Judi Dench and Joan Plowright. No wonder I have multiple orgasms when I watch ‘Tea with Mussolini’ – Maggie, Judi, Joan AND Cher. It’s a gay boy’s wet dream. Liam didn’t have to ask me twice when he suggested we see ‘Quartet,’ Maggie’s latest flick. Adapted from the original play, Dustin Hoffman’s directorial debut  is set in a retirement home for classical musicians and singers. Maggie stars alongside Tom Courtney, Pauline Collins, Billy Connolly and Michael Gambon with a supporting chorus of real-life former divas, fiddlers, and ivory ticklers. We took our seats at Cinema City, our local picture house. The auditorium was crammed with half-cut old folk of Norfolk spending their winter fuel allowance on buckets of booze, illustrating that not every pensioner in the land is living on the edge of malnutrition and hypothermia. The film is a sweet tale of long-lost love reignited in old age. It brought back fine memories of an old friend’s mother who moved into sheltered housing and married the boy next door. At the time, they were both in their eighties and found a little companionship and happiness towards the end of their lives. I was honoured to be invited to their wedding. It gave me hope for the future, something I’ve clung onto ever since.

Naturally, Maggie as a crabby old opera singer was magnificent but, for me, Pauline Collins stole the show. Her touching performance of someone suffering from the onset of dementia, slipping in and out of cognisance, was delicately and beautifully played. Dementia is a subject Liam and I know only too well.

Tea with MussoliniYou might also like:

There’s Hope for Us All

Oh Woe is Me