The title of the movie suggests faded characters fussing over antimacassars and sipping tea. But the beauty of this film is that it shows us that the feelings of these women are anything but simple and their scope is as broad as the ocean outside their home.
Janet (Maggie Smith) and Ursula (Judi Dench) are sisters who live together in pre-World War II Cornwall. Janet is slightly more practical and worldly. She has loved and lost. Ursula is slightly more tender-hearted and vulnerable. One day, they find a unconscious young man named Andrea (Daniel Bruhl of Goodbye, Lenin) washed up on their shore. They bring him back to their house and care for him. He will not be the only one in the house who is awakened. And when he does wake up and it turns out he does not speak English (he is Polish), he will not be the only one who learns something new.
Andrea’s presence is disturbing, causing the sisters to feel emotions so new the sisters barely recognize them. They have no framework, no vocabulary for them. Andrea is exotic in every category, in a time and place when there wasn’t much that was new or surprising. His newness, his non-English-ness, his youth, his masculinity, and, when he gets a chance at a violin, his music — all are stirring.
If the story had been written by D.H. Lawrence, it could have gone in another direction, all undercurrents and disruption. But it was written by William J. Locke and adapted for the screen by first-time director Charles Dance with a delicacy that these two great ladies (and grandes Dames) have responded to with brilliantly subtle performances of stunning skill and beauty. It would be so easy to make the ladies look foolish and skittish. But Dance, Smith, and Dench give us characters who remind us that even ladies in lavender have hearts and minds and memories and longings.
Parents should know that the movie has brief strong language and social drinking and smoking.
Families who see this movie should talk about why Ursula and Janet responded differently to Andrea. How did Andrea feel about them?
Families who enjoy this movie will also enjoy Enchanted April and Room With a View. They should also see more of the two leading ladies, including their Oscar-winning performances in California Suite, The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie, and Shakespeare in Love