Ladies in Lavender (review)

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The bracing, windswept landscapes of England’s Cornish coast are mirrored in the poignancy of this tale of loneliness reprieved through a sudden awakening of feelings long suppressed. Two sisters living alone in a seaside cottage find their dull routine upended, in the most delightful way, by the arrival of an unexpected houseguest: a young man (Daniel Brühl) washed ashore after a violent storm. Handsome and mysterious — he speaks no English, and what he does speak is an unrecognizable language to the provincial types of this little fishing village — he rouses maternal instincts in stolid, practical Janet Widdington (Maggie Smith: Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban), but for sensitive, naive Ursula (Judi Dench: The Chronicles of Riddick), he represents a lost romanticism, a chance to experience a particular kind of passion for the first time in her life. There’s a marvelous mythic sensibility to this lovely film about last chances and elemental emotions — Ursula pegs a dangerously beautiful tourist (Natascha McElhone: Revelations) and romantic “rival” for the stranger’s affections as “like a witch in a fairy tale” — and even the political aspects of the film — in prewar 1936, a non-English-speaking visitor is viewed with suspicion — take on an agreeable storybook inevitability. Most refreshing of all, perhaps, is how British actor Charles Dance (Gosford Park), in his screenwriting and directorial debut, working from a short story by little-known writer William J. Locke, never lets the hints of the whimsical and the fantastical overwhelm what is a fully realized portrait of a little slice of English life.

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