‘Ladies in Lavender’ predictable, respectable
The great actor William H. Macy once told me he didn’t have much enthusiasm for impressive acting performances. Any time you’re paying attention to the acting – or, he added, the cinematography and, presumably, the set design or lighting – it means that the heart of the film, the story, is failing.The English film “Ladies in Lavender” is bound to get audiences focusing on the acting, as it stars Judi Dench and Maggie Smith, two of the elder stateswomen of British cinema. And watching the two play a lonesome pair of sisters in a remote coastal region of 1930s England is a treat of a sort. The twosome know how to create a character: Smith as the rigid, practical widower Joan; Dench as the more dreamy Ursula.But the story, told by director/screenwriter Charles Dance, is slight. It comes as no surprise to learn that the film is based on a short story, by William J. Locke.A man, barely alive, has washed up on the shore outside the sisters’ house. As they tend to his recovery, they find, in order, that Andrea (Daniel Brühl) is young and handsome, doesn’t speak English, and is a supremely talented violinist. As he regains his health, Andrea finds himself pulling away from his saviors, and in the direction of Olga (Natascha McElhone), a vaguely mysterious neighbor whose brother happens to be a renowned musician. Supplying what emotional tension there is is Ursula. Never married, perhaps even a septuagenarian virgin, Ursula has created in her head a romantic bond with Andrea. It’s an interesting road, but “Ladies in Lavender” never follows that path with any real curiosity. Instead, the film focuses on side roads like a no-go romance between Olga and Andrea, and the distracting, overly obvious comic relief provided by the sisters’ maid Dorcas (Miriam Margolyes).As far as predictable, emotionally slim films go, “Ladies in Lavender” is one of the best, providing a modest but respectable entertainment. But at nearly two hours, one would hope that more story and emotion could have been squeezed out.”Ladies in Lavender” shows at the Wheeler Opera House tonight and tomorrow.Stewart Oksenhorn’s e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org
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