2 stars (out of four)
Joan Plowright got through "Last Action Hero" and "Dennis the Menace" without smudging her reputation, and in a near fatally genteel mode "Mrs. Palfrey at the Claremont" won't dent it, either. In this adaptation of the 1971 novel, one of the screen's great go-to seniors plays a recently widowed Englishwoman who moves to a small London hotel. With her own grandson staying resolutely out of touch, Mrs. Palfrey befriends a charming young street musician and fledgling writer, played by Rupert Friend, who becomes a surrogate relative and cherished friend. "Good Lord, we're trapped in a Terrence Rattigan play," says the young man, masquerading as Mrs. P's grandson in front of the Claremont residents.
The ruse continues; the film pokes along. Taylor's story has been updated by screenwriter Ruth Sacks to the present, which means the characters refer to "Sex and the City" and "Harold and Maude." At times director Dan Ireland's decorous treatment of this story threatens to go the "Harold and Maude" route itself, but it's only a threat. The cast manages some sweet moments, and Plowright lends a touch of grace and wit to each new indignity or kindness. Yet the whole thing feels programmed; the movie's sense of humor lacks understatement. So does the movie's sense of pathos: When, in his apartment, Friend serenades a teary Plowright with her favorite song, "For All We Know," it's as if the scene were the Allies and the audience a beach at Normandy.
'Mrs. Palfrey at the Claremont'
Running time: 1:48. Opens Friday at Landmark's Renaissance Place Cinema and the Wilmette Theatres. No MPAA rating (parents cautioned for language and mild sexual elements).Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun