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Mrs. Palfrey at the Claremont

Life Is Just Waiting For You To Invite It In

Mrs. Palfrey At The Claremont is a true gem: perhaps the most thoroughly charming, and completely satisfying, independent film I’ve seen in the past few years. Based on a novel by Elizabeth Taylor (the British writer, not the movie star), its title character (Dame Joan Plowright) is an elderly widow who’s been emotionally abandoned by her only daughter and has just moved to London to be near her 26-year-old grandson. But the busy grandson has no time for her, and when after many weeks he hasn’t even managed a visit to the tiny residential hotel in Lancaster Gate where she’s taken a room, the other tenants there begin to suspect that the boy is a figment of her imagination. One day, however, she’s rescued after a fall on the street by an impoverished writer (Rupert Friend), and the rest of the movie chronicles their developing friendship, which results in the young man masquerading as her grandson to the other aged residents of the hotel. It’s a simple premise, and a rather familiar one, but Ireland constantly goes against our expectations in scene after scene, and gradually constructs something very special, and much more than the sum of its parts: a profound meeting of souls. The cast is loaded with delightfully eccentric British characters that seem to have been lifted from the great Ealing Studios comedies of the 50s, and, both visually and spiritually, it’s an Anglophile’s celebration of the magic of London. Mrs. Palfrey also lets us know that people often DO get better, wiser and more appealing with age, and that a bond with a grandparent figure can be one of life’s most rewarding relationships. Plowright wonderfully conveys this ethic, and she does it with a restrained performance that relies much more on her underused movie-star presence than her famous theatricality. Indeed, she carries the movie with a quiet dignity, grace and generosity of spirit that’s positively gripping. Even so, the more memorable performance belongs to Friend (the bounder of Pride And Prejudice). The movie utterly depends on our identification with the emotion he comes to feel for Mrs. Palfrey, and he makes us believe every minute of it. William Arnold, Seattle Post Intelligencer

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Directed by: 
Dan Ireland
Running Time: 
Joan Plowright, Rupert Friend, Zoe Tapper, Anna Massey, Robert Lang
Screenplay by: 
Ruth Sacks, based on Elizabeth Taylor's novel

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