Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Mrs. Palfrey at the Claremont: A Movie Review

But for Netflix, I would have missed Mrs. Palfrey at the Claremont, an endearing movie released in 2005 starring Dame Joan Plowright as Mrs. Palfrey and Rupert Friend as Ludovic Meyer. This movie squeaked silently by, a pity as it is quite a feel good movie.

Recently widowed and hoping for an independent life, Mrs. Palfrey leaves her home and daughter in Scotland to live at the Claremont in London, a hotel romanticized in a travel brochure. She also hopes to reconnect with her grandson who works in London. Meeting the relic of a doorman should have been the first clue that the Claremont was not as publicized. The suite turns out to be a tiny room with a window looking out to a wall and the shared bathroom runs out of hot water. The Claremont is, in fact, a hotel where people stay in the twilight of their lives as they wait for the inevitable. The dining room is the hub of the regular denizens where Mrs. Palfrey comes overdressed for dinner. Mrs. Arbuthnot (Anna Massey), self elected group leader, provides her with the low down on the other diners. As time passes, Mrs. Palfrey's grandson does not return calls, write a letter, let alone come to visit, making the other residents think he is a fiction of the imagination.

On the way home from the library where she had picked up a copy of Lady Chatterly's Lover for Mrs. Arbuthnot, Mrs. Palfrey falls. A young man, Ludovic, comes to her rescue, invites her into his apartment and tends to her scrapes. A friendship develops and when Mrs. Palfrey invites Ludovic to dinner, the hotel residents mistake him for the grandson, a charade they chose to perpetuate. Ludovic earns a living as a street musician while pursuing his dream of being a writer. As the friendship grows, they come to terms with their isolation, having few friendships with people their own age. They help each other find the goodness in their lives, Mrs. Palfrey helping Ludovic find love and move on to his future while Ludovic helps her see the value of her past.

The movie is adapted to the screen by Ruth Sacks, herself in her 80's from the last novel by Elizabeth Taylor (the novelist, not the actress) published in 1971. The book, Mrs. Palfrey at the Claremont, itself, is worth reading and depicts the changes as one ages as in this passage:

“The morning was to be filled in quite nicely, but the afternoon and evening made a long stretch. I must not wish my life away, she told herself; but she knew that, as she got older, she looked at her watch more often, and that it was always earlier than she had thought it would be. When she was young, it had always been later.”

Dan Ireland directs a wonderful cast of older actors and young Rupert Friend. Friend, dashing and handsome, is an actor to watch. (He is in the upcoming movie, Cherie, with Michelle Pfeiffer.) Friend makes us believe that friendship between a young man and an elderly woman is a most natural thing that happens everyday. There is wonderful chemistry between Plowright and Friend as pretend grandmother and grandson and between aging actors playing the residents of the Claremont.

Go rent or buy the DVD. There is no violence, no foul language and no nudity. It is just a great escape movie that warms the soul.

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