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Sunday, April 21, 2013


The Vita Sackville-West novel gets a lush, leisurely treatment in this BBC/Masterpiece Theatre adaptation. (Designed in three long acts, you can help yourself to refreshments during the intervals.) Wendy Hiller is unmatchable as the elderly Lady Slane, newly widowed after a contented marriage to a former Prime Minister. But while she’s been happy, her husband’s perfect companion and loved her children, she never felt the life she led was truly hers. So, in the time remaining, leading a life of her own, not one that was chosen for her, is precisely what she plans to do. And since Sackville-West had such unexpected ideas about the pleasures of quiet routine, companionship & acceptance of limitations, this talkative film grows more interesting as you adjust to its pace, concerns & themes. While her children split between fretful & approving, Lady Slane finds three devoted, if eccentric, friends in her new landlord (Maurice Denham); a middle-class contractor (David Waller in a dream of a perf from this solid supporting actor); and even courtship from Harry Andrews’ brusque millionaire art collector, a man who spent his life in closeted thrall to the Lady after a brief encounter decades back. (Reference song: PASSING BY.) A subplot involving her Great-Granddaughter and an unwanted marriage proposal hits its points too neatly, but it also provides some narrative energy that doesn’t involve an elderly death. Don’t be put off by the poky, seemingly pointless, blather in those first two acts, it’s necessary scaffolding for the emotional third, ending in a remarkable tribute from the least likely source. Plus, a final tableau that’s ‘spot on,’ and helps compensate for some of the BBC boilerplate technical deficiencies of the era. (That's the young V S-W above & to the right; but what is she reading?)

DOUBLE-BILL: The same basic idea gets a sentimental outing in George Cukor’s LOVE AMONG THE RUINS/’75, with Laurence Olivier & Kate Hepburn in fussy old age form. (Hiller & Andrews play tart, and keep ‘the cutes’ at bay.)

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