My Old Lady – LFF Review

My Old Lady

New Yorker Mathias (Kevin Kline) has inherited a large Parisian apartment from his estranged, and now deceased, father. Having driven his life into the ground this windfall comes at a time where a large lump sum are all that stands between Mathias and ruin. Sadly a bizarre French law means that the apartment’s former owner and current tenant Mathilde (Maggie Smith) has the right to live in Mathias’ new property until she dies. On top of this the bankrupt American must pay her a monthly maintenance or forfeit the entire abode. With nowhere else to go Mathias rents a room in his own apartment and lives with Mathilde and her daughter Chloé (Kristin Scott Thomas) while he judges how long Mathilde has left to live and whether he can possibly sell the place while it remains tied up in the strange Parisian legal bind.

Hilarity ensues.

For the most part My Old Lady features just this cast of three and rarely strays too far from the all important apartment. The plot is driven by plenty of dialogue, the acting is delivered with a little too much vigour, and the machinations of the story get a little contrived towards the end. All of this should scream one thing to you; the theatre. Indeed with its modest headcount, singular setting, and final act revelations My Old Lady does very little to disguise the fact that it started life on the stage in a play by the film’s director Israel Horovitz. When a play is adapted well it can make for great cinematic fare equally as lauded as its original incarnation. When done badly a big screen adaptation can feel stale and unconvincing; the melodrama that was captivating on stage not translating so well on-screen.

My Old Lady 2

For the most part Horovitz does not seem to have done much to make My Old Lady justify a conversion to film. There is nothing contained within the adaptation that could not have been performed on stage any less easily and the style of direction is one without flair or excitement. It is hard to see what filming his play has added to its story and why he felt the need to do so.

The film, and presumably the play, is perfectly pleasant. Not quite as many laughs as I had been led to expect but a funny and charming story is there to be enjoyed. Maggie Smith gives her trademark performance as a snippy but loveable aging matriarch and is as enjoyable to watch as always. Kristin Scott Thomas gives a tender edge to her role as the indignant daughter and Kevin Kline slightly over-eggs his performance as the boorish American disrupting the lives of incredibly English Parisians. The experience of watching My Old Lady is one of bemusement and mild unrest. Nothing too exciting happens, a few laughs are had, and then it ends without ever fully convincing.

Not a bad film but not spectacular either. My Old Lady is a film to be watched on a rainy weekend afternoon with a blanket keeping you warm.

My Old Lady has a UK release date of 21st November 2014.

BFI LFF 2014

The Invisible Woman – Film Review

The Invisible Woman - Felicity Jones

When watching a romantic drama you are well within your rights to expect the film to deliver two things; both romance and drama. Sadly The Invisible Woman does not satisfy in either of these departments as alas Felicity Jones has returned to films that aren’t quite good enough.

Ralph Fiennes is following up his perfectly fine directorial debut Coriolanus with a period drama about Charles Dickens (played by Fiennes) and his young mistress Nelly (Felicity Jones). Nelly is the invisible woman of the title as her relationship with Dickens is one that is both formally arranged and kept a secret. As a director Fiennes adapts well to the change of pace as The Invisible Woman adopts a much lighter, quieter, and subtler tone to Coriolanus and Ralph is more than capable of coaxing fantastic performances from his cast including, but not limited to, Joanna Scanlan, Tom Hollander, and Kristin Scott Thomas.

Sadly the one actor Fiennes fails to properly shepherd is himself. Much as in Coriolanus his performance feels all too stagey and over the top. Fiennes’ Dickens is a bounding man filled with silliness and joy but I could never quite shake the feeling that I was watching a performance rather than a real character. Fiennes’ acting was on display for all to see like seeing a giant zip going down the back of his costume. There is no denying that Ralph Fiennes is a fine actor but when it comes to directing himself on-screen I have so far found him a little too unrestrained and theatrical.

The Invisible Woman - Ralph Fiennes Felicity Jones

Felicity Jones in contrast is fantastic (of course I would say that). Her performance is one of subtlety and nuance which is often stomped out by Fiennes pantomiming around by her side. The film’s strongest moments come in its framing scenes in which an older Nelly is looking back on the affair as she faces moving on with her life. Dickens is now referred to as merely a family friend rather than the greatest love of her life. Jones’ stoney gaze as she walks along a beach contemplating her future and her past is a masterclass in understated performance that Fiennes should spend some time considering.

Back in the period of Nelly’s relationship with Dickens things unravel and the film fails to convince. I never really felt a spark between the pair of supposed lovers and their relationship felt cold and dispassionate as a result. While you could see on the surface why Dickens might be physically attracted to Nelly and she to his stature and confidence they never interacted enough to give one another to fall head over heels in love. We are supposed to believe in a love strong enough for Nelly’s mother (Kristin Scott Thomas) to allow the affair, and for Dickens to betray his wife (a brilliantly rejected and dejected Joanna Scanlan), but frankly it all seemed like they were getting a little carried away.

Without a romance to believe in and no real drama considering everybody pretty much OK-ed the affair, we are left with just a collection of fine performances, one overacting director, and a lot of wigs and bonnets. Not without its merits The Invisible Woman is another case of a good premise going unfulfilled.

The Invisible Woman is in selected UK cinemas on 7th February and is released nationwide on 21st February.

BFI London Film Festival 2013