Charles Dance's Ladies in Lavender teams two of Britain's grandest dames, Judi Dench and Maggie Smith, in an endearing film of subtlety and charm. This lovely period picture, set in Cornwall in 1936, is a pleasure from start to finish.
On a sunny summer day, a nearly drowned young man (Daniel Bruhl) is washed ashore on a craggy beach, where he is discovered by spinster sisters who share a fine old stone manor house on the cliff above. Dench's Ursula and Smith's Janet are leading quiet lives indeed, attended by their crusty but loyal housekeeper (Miriam Margolyes), when this stranger appears.
It seems he is a Polish Jew and a violin virtuoso swept overboard from a ship bound for America. He speaks no English but does speak German, a language in which Janet, with the aid of a German-English dictionary, can communicate pretty well.
Bruhl's Andrea Marowski is sweet-natured and boyish, and his impact on the sisters Widdington, Ursula especially, is immediate. Ursula has never known love - Janet lost her fiance in World War I - and she is overcome by romantic stirrings while Andrea soon appeals to the astringent Janet's maternal instincts. The feelings Andrea stirs up in the sisters are nothing they believe they can't handle sensibly, yet at the same time they cannot bring themselves to contemplate the possibility that at some point Andrea likely will be moving on.
Dench and Smith have worked together off and on since 1958, and it is of course a joy to watch two consummate actresses play off each other so effortlessly.
Dance, himself an estimable actor making his writing and directing debut, overreaches a little in bringing Ladies in Lavender to a rather hectic conclusion. Even so, he achieves an emotional impact that has been well earned.
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SUN SCORE *** stars (3 stars)
Ladies in Lavender
Starring Judi Dench and Maggie Smith
Directed by Charles Dance
Released by IDP
Rated PG-13 (language)
Time 104 minutes