Joining "A Room With a View" and "Enchanted April" in the sub-sub-genre of "Middle-class Brits on Vacation in Italy," "A Month By the Lake" offers some sedate but undeniable pleasures: The triumph of a shrewd, decent and practical woman, the thawing of a pompous prig, and the comeuppance of an American upstart. Throw in Lake Como's gorgeous scenery and you've got just the soothing thing for the people who instinctively know they must stay far, far away from "To Die For."
It's 1937 and this time Miss Bentley has come to the lake alone. She's both exhilarated by the freedom and still mourning the loss: The father she'd cared for most of her adult life has just died. That she's played by the radiant Vanessa Redgrave is fortunate; that she's hopelessly awkward and repressed is unfortunate.
One day, across the dining room, she spies a new Brit: Major Wilshaw, the Edward Fox who once played The Jackal but now grown thick about the neck and somewhat suety around the eyes.
And also about the brain: Major Wilshaw is insufferably insufferable, more turnip than man, a self-important jaybird who plays tennis in an ascot and worships at the altar of punctuality. To be late, he believes, is to be immoral.
Naturally for Miss Bentley, it's love at first sight.
But there's a problem: The self-indulgent and somewhat brazen Miss Beaumont (Uma Thurman), the improbably beautiful and improbably callow American nanny of a prosperous Italian family. Almost as a game, she sets the Major's heart a-thumping.
The film's deepest pleasure is to watch Miss Bentley grow with the challenge. At the start of the film, she's something of a helpless ninny; by the end she's not only outfoxed everyone but grown into a capable and shrewd woman. She's also so sunny she seems to light the dark corners of the theater.
Question: When on earth did Vanessa Redgrave turn into Greer Garson? I must have been out of the room.
'A Month by the Lake'
E9 Starring Vanessa Redgrave, Edward Fox and Uma Thurman
Directed by John Irvin
Released by Miramax Unrated