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MRS. PALFREY AT THE CLAREMONT
U.S. Release Date: November 25, 2005
Distributor: Cineville
Director: Dan Ireland
Cast: Joan Plowright, Rupert Friend
Running Time: 1 hour and 45 minutes
MPAA Rating: Unrated

Light London Drama Delights
by Scott Holleran

Rush to see Mrs. Palfrey at the Claremont, a small movie with Joan Plowright in the title role opposite a luminous new actor in a cross-generational love story. With a screenplay by an old woman named Ruth Sacks who writes as if she's lived a full, rich life, based on a novel by Elizabeth Taylor (not the actress), this little treasure captures the bond that exists between a pair of self-made souls.

They're not related by blood and their intentions are not romantic, though director Dan Ireland subtly exploits inevitable Harold and Maude comparisons. Any movie with a reference to Terence Rattigan, the British playwright who wrote the stage play Separate Tables, adapted for the screen with Burt Lancaster, and the lush, bittersweet The Yellow Rolls-Royce, is likely to have romance, and Mrs. Palfrey comes equipped with a lifetime of love.

Dear old widow Palfrey, dowdy Plowright playing to the ceiling beams and showing everyone how it's done, travels to London following the death of her spouse to adopt the singular lifestyle in residence at one of those grand hotels she's always romanticized. One look into her saucer eyes, and it's clear that she was a good wife who loved her husband, whom it is obvious she still misses. At this point, I was wondering what manner of tragedy would befall her and make everything miserable.

But that is what's exquisite about Mrs. Palfrey. She lives in a benevolent universe, which she and her husband undoubtedly worked hard to create, even if she finds herself staying at the dilapidated Claremont, a dusty place that's lost whatever glamour it once possessed. The desk clerk is a bit stiff, the bellhop moves as slowly as the elevator, and the guests, well, they're an eccentric lot whose combined years reach back to another age.

This is precisely what Mrs. Palfrey does, as she dodders and twaddles her way into the dining hall, hair nicely poofed and dressed for the theater, to a table for one. An awkward entrance is remedied by another guest, played by Anna Massey, a sniffy sort with wisdom about the place and a soft spot for the hotel's newest overdressed guest. From there, the picture introduces what passes for a plot as the widow finds her way to tea and something other than sympathy called kindness.

It comes in the form of a young man, named Ludovic, a handsome young writer portrayed by Rupert Friend, whose face is clean and guiltless and whose confident presence makes the perfect match for Plowright's Mrs. Palfrey. They meet by coincidence—her buttoned-up Mary Poppins minus the umbrella, his striking artist with a Remington typewriter and a mind of his own—and their encounter leads to the false assumption that he's her grandson.

Since Mrs. Palfrey's blood grandson—by her cranky daughter—doesn't bother to return her phone calls, she plays along, and the Claremont's lonely guests, most of whom are also forgotten by their families, adopt darling Ludovic as their own. This leads to interesting situations, including the prospect of romance for Mrs. P with one of those Rattigan types also staying at Old Folks Inn.

With everyone perking up, including the Claremont waitress at the sight of the dashing, silky-haired grandson, it's all perfectly cheery—with struggling writer Ludovic gaining a guide to observable wonders (especially classic movies) and Mrs. Palfrey gaining the companionship of an ideal grandson—until Mrs. P's blood relatives show up.

The whole affair ends with the grace of an afternoon in the country and if Mrs. Palfrey and her friend Ludovic are not quite Rattigan caliber, they are also not Harold and Maude. Ludovic learns that he is loved—and lovable—and he awakens the writer within, falling in love with a young woman (graceful Zoe Tapper) who shares his values and learning how to live by what he writes. In exchange, he holds a mirror to Mrs. Palfrey's past—while giving her the promise of his future—and the whole dandy thing checks out beautifully, with marvelous performances and a sense that the best times in one's life—and this includes family—are made by choice.


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