Tag Archives: Maggie Smith

The Lady in the Van

Margaret Fairchild’s life is full and wonderfully varied – she loves the piano and is a gifted pianist. As a girl, her parents recognise her talent and she spends time under the tutelage of Alfred Cortot, one of the 20th century’s most renowned classical musicians. Young Margaret even plays Chopin in a promenade concert. As she grows up she hopes to become a nun, but it doesn’t eventuate and her brother commits her to an institution. She manages to escape, but later she’s driving along a country lane when her van is in a motor accident. The motorcyclist involved is badly injured and she believes she’s responsible. From that day onwards she lives in total fear of arrest and takes fright every time anyone approaches her. To “disappear”, she becomes Miss Mary Shepherd (played by Maggie Smith) – and lives in a Bedford van, moving from place to place around London each time the locals become suspicious or too close to her. One day she parks in the Camden street of writer, Allan Bennett (by Alex Jennings), who tolerates her, even when she regularly avails herself of his bathroom and moves her unsightly van into his driveway. He agrees that she can stay “temporarily”, which becomes fifteen years of Miss Shepherd and Mr Bennett barely enduring each other’s presence. This is a true story …

Whilst there is no doubting the strength of Maggie Smith’s performance as the belligerent and eccentric Miss Shepherd, I did find this movie hard going. She plays the ungrateful “Lady in the Van” very well and her character is fascinating, if not frustrating. Also, the script has its very witty moments, but overall the movie didn’t really grab me. Something’s not quite right with it. Alan Bennett’s narrative is told in a double-act – Allan Bennet the writer and Allan Bennet the man – who chat with each other of the frustrations of this woman and what they will do about it, also how writer Allan will develop his book based on the story. The neighbours are typical of the time (seemingly welcoming, but suspicious and eager for her to depart) and Allan’s interactions with the Social Worker, Lois (by Claire Foy) provide an interesting interlude. Miss Shepherd, aka Margaret Fairchild, died in 1989. Overall, the movie is okay, but I would wait until television to see it.

Made in 2015. Directed by Nicholas Hytner.

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Posted by on June 28, 2016 in Movies


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The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel

One month on from where we left the recently retired Brits in Jaipur, India – we return to see how they are getting on. They’ve settled nicely into “The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel” and into an acceptable routine, where the proprietor, Sonny (by Dev Patel) reads roll call every morning, to check they are all still here (and none has made their final departure during the night). After one or two changes, our roll call checks the wellbeing of each of our residents …

  • Muriel (by Maggie Smith) – a harridan and now sometime-Manager and senior advisor to Sonny.
  • Douglas (by Bill Nighy) now single since his wife Jean returned to Britain without him.
  • Evelyn (by Judi Dench) recently widowed and broke – finding a new life here in Jaipur.
  • Madge (by Celia Imrie) – still trying to keep the good life a part of hers.
  • Norman (by Ronald Pickup) – our perpetual Casanova, with his partner Diana (by Carol Parr)

Our ambitious proprietor, Sonny, is in USA with his senior advisor, Muriel, to gain support and funding for his expansion into his second hotel. His potential funders, Evergreen Hotels, proposes to send an inspector to the Marigold to check it out, so Sonny and Muriel return to Jaipur to await the outcome of the investment decision and prepare for Sonny’s magnificent wedding to his fiancé Sunaina (by Tena Desae). The hotel inspector duly arrives and Sonny falls over himself to show the inspector a good time. Other guests arrive to sample the Marigold’s wonders – American writer, Guy Chambers (by Richard Gere) and dutiful British woman Lavinia (by Tamsin Grieg) seeking a holiday destination for her ageing mother. The Marigold’s guests rub along as best they can, whilst they deal with the health and financial challenges brought on by retirement and ageing. Sonny’s ambition threatens to get in the way of his happiness with Sunaina and their wedding celebrations are put in jeopardy when he is distracted by the needs of his business.  People don’t seem to be able to settle … surely life isn’t meant to be this tricky? 

Just like the first one, “The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel” – I thoroughly enjoyed this movie. Jaipur is shown in all its splendour and we also get the pleasure of Mumbai in this movie – it’s spectacularly and beautifully shot in all its remarkable colour and culture.  Once again, the very strong cast are the gems in this simple, but enjoyable story. Douglas, as awkward and down-trodden as ever – is just lovely (beautifully played by Bill Nighy once again) and Judi Dench’s Evelyn is equally great.  It’s hard to choose a favourite character this time – Maggie Smith is just incomparable and wonderful. I thought the addition of Richard Gere as the American Guy Chambers would be terrible, but it’s a great addition.  He is supremely handsome and I love Sonny’s line in the movie “… he’s so good looking, he’s got me questioning my own sexuality!” …  Tena Desae as Sunaina is exotic and totally enchanting. The wonderful celebrations for the Hindu wedding are beautiful and much of this movie is lavishly presented. All performances are excellent and the lovely Dev Patel is once again, verbose in the extreme but always means well. It is one of those typical British movies where the characters just fall over their own awkwardness and you want to grab them by the shoulders and say “just do it!!!” …If you liked the first on, you will enjoy this – it’s good.

Made in 2015. Directed by John Madden.

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Posted by on April 9, 2015 in Movies


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My Old Lady

Can it be true? … can Mathias Gold (played by Kevin Kline) finally have had some good fortune? Having grown up in a wealthy New York family, Mathias’ luck hasn’t been great over his life – in fact he’s been quite unhappy. He’s never had a great relationship with his father and he’s had some bad marriages. His father died recently and left Mathias an apartment in Paris – fantastic! It’s got to be worth a fortune, right? – At last, something good’s going to come out of all these traumatic years. Mathias heads to Paris to take a look at his new property. On his arrival, he discovers a fabulous and huge apartment – but there’s one small snag … it’s currently inhabited. But the resident isn’t just a tenant who can be evicted, it’s Madame Mathilde Girard (by Maggie Smith). She lives in the apartment under a decades-old Parisian arrangement, along with her daughter Chloé (by Kristin Scott Thomas). Madame Girard has no intention of moving and expects to stay, along with Chloe, in the apartment until she dies. As a woman in her early nineties, she’s quite fit, so this change doesn’t seem to be coming anytime in the near future. So … luck hasn’t quite dealt Mathias a clear hand here. All he wants to do is sell the apartment for a fair price and get back to New York with the money – so how’s he going to get that done now?

This movie is far deeper and darker than I expected. To start with, the production itself is dark – the Parisian apartment is vast and roomy, but not light. There’s a garden, but it doesn’t offer any joy or freshness either. The moody atmosphere inside the house reflects the nature of the relationships between these people – there are several and they are complex, hence the density of the drama that unfolds. There’s no doubt that Kevin Kline is a brilliant comedy actor, so I thought this may be a far more light-hearted piece than it is. In this serious role he’s very good, as is Maggie Smith and Kristin Scott Thomas. Maggie Smith does play these eccentric old ladies very well. As Chloe, Kristin Scott Thomas is rather predictable and there’s little new here from her, that’s unfortunate as I am a fan of hers. If anything, the movie’s possibly a bit too long – but then again, the story is complex so may need that much time in the telling. It raises multitudes of questions about relationships … When is the best time to reveal truths in families? Who is the one to know what’s best for others? When infidelity is part of a relationship, can that be a long term feature? and Would a relationship work if it was?  … these are vexing questions indeed, ones that have more than one “right” answer no doubt. It’s an interesting piece that may cause the viewer to consider it long after the movie ends.

Made in 2014. Directed by Israel Horovitz.

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Posted by on February 9, 2015 in Movies


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A Room With a View

Its the early 1900’s – Lucy Honeychurch (played by Helena Bonham Carter) and her chaperone, cousin Charlotte Bartlett (by Maggie Smith) are on holidays in Tuscany. They are a little affronted by the state of their rooms – imagine being in Florence, in a room without a view! Honestly, it’s not befitting at all for such well-heeled English women … and it just will not do! Two English gentleman guests in the establishment, Mr Emerson (by Denholm Elliott) and his son George (by Julian Sands) gallantly offer to swap their rooms with the women, but Charlotte won’t hear of it … and so begins the visit to Italy and the sequence of events that introduces the young Lucy to a series of fascinating characters and the ways of the adult world. Back in England, Lucy spends happy times with her family – mother Marian (by Rosemary Leach) and her brother Freddy (by Rupert Graves). They host a parade of visitors, including the fellow guests from their holiday in Florence. Then Lucy is courted by Cecil Vyse (by Daniel Day Lewis) and she spends a confused summer trying to understand her feelings and manage the expectations of her family and society in general …. all she wants to do is please her family, marry well and hopefully be happy …. that shouldn’t be so difficult, should it?

This is an exquisite movie; the production is lavish and the audience is expertly taken right into Edwardian life, the art and culture of Florence and the stunning Tuscan countryside. You can almost sense the warmth in the sun, taste the grapes and breathe in lungs full of fresh Italian country air … Helen Bonham Carter is perfectly cast as the young Lucy, with marvellous and faultless support from Maggie Smith, Rosemary Leach, Judi Dench, Daniel Day Lewis and Denholm Elliott – one can hardly imagine anything going wrong with this stellar and gold-plated cast. Both Denholm Elliott and Maggie Smith were nominated as Best Supporting Actors for their work by the Academy. Of course, there is absolutely no surprise that in 1986 the production won Academy Awards (Oscars) for Art Direction, Set Decoration, Costumes and Screenplay. The score is marvellous – it features the heavenly Puccini aria “O Mio Babbino Caro” performed by Dame Kiri Te Kanawa … another perfect addition to this ensemble and another component that adds to the atmosphere of the entire piece. It’s wonderful … just enjoy it.

Made in 1985. Directed by James Ivory.

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Posted by on July 10, 2013 in Movies


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In country England, the Beecham Home for Retired Musicians is in a quandary. The residents are all very happy and settled there, but the business isn’t going so well and without additional support funding it may need to close down. Of course, this is unthinkable for its occupants and they are treading the boards one more time to help raise some much needed funds to keep their home open. Reggie (played by Tom Courtenay) is a former opera star and he, along with his fellow ex-performers Wilf (by Billy Connolly) and Cissy (by Pauline Collins) hope to recapture the magic of their salad days together in the theatre. Rehearsals are progressing slowly but somehow they haven’t quite got it together … then a new resident arrives. Jean (by Maggie Smith), herself an accomplished opera diva, is reluctant to part from her independent life, but she moves into Beecham to try it out. In her heyday, she was a regular performer with Reggie (and also briefly married to him). These days, she has long recovered from the broken marriage, but he has not and her surprise arrival so unsettles him that it threatens to derail their entire performance.

What do do? … should the group press on with the critical concert even with Reggie being so upset? …. or should they give up on the show to support their friend, but wave farewell to their happy lives at Beecham?

This is a lovely and entertaining movie. With such a strong and experienced cast, it could scarcely go wrong. Remarkably, it is the directorial debut of Dustin Hoffman and he has made a great job of it. The residents are all unique individuals and for once, Maggie Smith’s character is not nearly as curmudgeonly as she is usually cast. Billy Connolly is as mischievous as ever as the wily Wilf, but for me the best in show is Pauline Collins who beautifully and sensitively plays Cissy who is gently succumbing to dementia and senility. Reggie has some wonderful interactions and in general all the relationships are portrayed beautifully – particularly those where the elderly and young are both involved. It is the adaptation of a play by Ronald Harwood called “Quartet” – and is very well done, Mr Hoffman.

Made in 2012. Directed by Dustin Hoffman

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Posted by on April 11, 2013 in Movies


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Keeping Mum

In 1960’s England, a steam train meanders through the countryside and on board is sweet young and heavily pregnant Rosie Jones (played by Emilia Fox). Rosie’s huge cabin trunk is in the baggage car and it suddenly starts to leak … blood. At the next station, the police meet Rosie and escort her and her trunk from the train, while she sweetly explains why she has just killed her husband. Rosie is admitted to a mental institution for recovery. Over forty years later, in the sleepy northern English hamlet of Little Wallop, Reverend Walter Goodman (by Rowan Atkinson) is tending to his parisoners, while his wife Gloria (by Kristin Scott Thomas) does her best to manage their growing children, Holly (by Tasmin Egerton) and Petey (by Toby Parkes) and ignore the fact that their lives have become rather stale and empty. In her dissatisfaction, Gloria starts to weaken to the advances of the local golf pro, Lance (by Patrick Swayze) and considers running away with him – but then their new housekeeper, Grace Hawkins (by Maggie Smith) arrives. She is so sweet, she immediately has a huge impact on the family and life starts to take a turn for the better … niggling problems mysteriously start to resolve themselves – are we imagining this or are the people causing the problems just disappearing? …. perhaps Grace isn’t quite as sweet as she seems?

At first glance, this movie doesn’t really promise much – but it really is good. Rowan Atkinson is just sublime as the absent-minded but sweet Walter. He’s marvellous with his flock, particularly his most entertaining parishioner, Mrs Parker, beautifully played by Liz Smith. Grace is a strong character and Kristin Scott Thomas portrays her perfectly., The children Tasmin Egerton and Toby Parkes are both well cast and provide great characters. Best performances are Rowan Atkinson, Maggie Smith (she is exquisite as the sweet, but “more lurks below” Grace – the movie totally belongs to her) and Patrick Swayze, who is totally fabulous as the cringe-worthy letcherous Lance. It’s actually very good and a huge surprise as it becomes a truly entertaining movie. Well done all.  

Made in 2005. Directed by Niall Johnson.

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Posted by on June 3, 2012 in Movies


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The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel

Seven recently retired Brits have found that continuing to live in England has become just too expensive, so they have decided to try an alternative – in India. They’ve each discovered a resort that sounds ideal … it promotes itself as “the best exotic Marigold Hotel (for the Elderly and Beautiful)” and they each set out to participate in it. This is an eclectic group …

  • Muriel (played by Maggie Smth) is an open and unashamed racist, but she is also in dire need of a hip replacement which she can’t afford in an English hospital, so she is reluctantly getting it done in Jaipur
  • Married couple Douglas (by Bill Nighy) and Jean (by Penelope Wilton) have lost all their retirement savings because Douglas invested it in their daughter’s start-up business, which is dismally failing
  • Recently widowed Evelyn (by Judi Dench) always trusted her husband to manage things, only to find he left her in significant debt
  • Jaded and exhausted High Court Judge, Graham (by Tom Wilkinson) spent his early years in India and yearns to return
  • Madge (by Celia Imrie) is not ready to give up the good life and would love to find a rich husband
  • Norman (by Ronald Pickup) is a perpetual casanova who’s just lonely and looking for love. 

They all arrive at the Marigold together but each have their own experience in this new, alien, colourful and totally sensory-overloaded world. They discover that the young owner of the Marigold, Sonny (by Dev Patel) has majorly exaggerated the hotel’s amenities and it is really a run-down, set of ruins that is barely habitable.  However, within all this disappointment, the travellers discover that life still brings its surprises, challenges and joys, They also discover that even if their plans don’t quite work out as expected, this doesn’t always mean bad news …..

I thoroughly enjoyed this movie. The environment of Jaipur is totally ‘in your face’ and chaotic.  The stellar cast are all marvellous and my favourite is Judi Dench’s Evelyn. She is a “take it as it comes” kind of woman now having to find her own way in the world and blossoming as she gains in confidence. I also really enjoyed the hapless Douglas – Bill Nighy’s performance is wonderful. You just want to tell Douglas to “man up and tell that b*** of a wife how miserable she’s making everything!!”. But things do work out very well for Douglas, so that balances out the ledger. All performances are excellent and the lovely Dev Patel is perfect as the charismatic, witty and desperate Sonny – trying so hard to make a silk purse out of the obvious pig’s ear. His girlfriend, Sunaina, is played by the beautiful Tena Desae and she is very good. The movie is uncomplicated and entertaining and the messages are very nice – it’s the kind of movie that you will be watching and suddenly realise you’ve been smiling the whole way through.

Made in 2012.  Directed by John Madden.


Posted by on April 13, 2012 in Movies


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