Dench & Smith: a Couple of Lovely Ladies
Sisters; Ursula (Judi Dench) and Janet (Maggie Smith) live a quiet life together in their cottage on the Cornish coast where they tend to their garden and generally keep themselves to themselves. But on the day after a storm they discover a young man, Andrea (Daniel Brühl), washed ashore and unconscious on the beach. Having taken him to there home to nurse him to health through his poor English they discover he is a gifted violinist from Poland. With the aging sisters growing fond of having Andrea around things take a surprising turn when a local doctor becomes suspicious of what is going on especially when Andrea strikes up a friendship with a foreign artist who movies into the area.
It would be fair to say that "Ladies in Lavender" is not a movie of excitement or high drama, its storyline is a pleasant tale about this young man who washes ashore and his time spent with two elderly sisters in a small Cornish village. As such it would also be fair to say that "Ladies in Lavender" meanders along focussing on the effect that this young man has on those around him, the way Ursula, who having never married, seems to fall for him despite her advanced years and how her sister Janet also reacts. That probably still sounds rather dull but because there is no real drama or manufactured excitement it has an almost raw, bare honesty to it delivering an innocent warmth.
But whilst "Ladies in Lavender" is a gentle tale there is a point to all this and that Andrea is a talented violinist who is overheard playing by a visiting German artist who's brother just happens to be a world renowned violinist. All of which leads to the inevitable element of young Andrea having to chose between his chance of a career or staying with the sisters who he grows to think of as his family. And as such there is that protective side of these sisters not wanting to let him go. None of which is heavy, it's just part of the story but a wonderful part because it gives way to many memorable scenes featuring Andrea playing violin. It may not be Daniel Brühl actually playing but the power in these scenes especially the first time we watch him pick up the instrument is truly magnificent, captivating in its simplicity and seductively beautiful to listen to.
The thing is that whilst the storyline gently unfolds, pepped up by various scenes of violin playing there is something missing from "Ladies in Lavender" and that is very much reasoning. We first meet Andrea washed ashore the morning after a storm, how did he get there, was there a ship wreck, was he thrown over board, why when these sisters took him in they never called the authorities? These are all unanswered questions which need to be answered and there are others with story elements including the jealousy of the local doctor needing more explanation. In a way I can see what first time director Charles Dance, who also wrote the screenplay, was trying to achieve, that sense of mystery which breeds doubts, but that sense of mystery never really comes across but more a sense of something missing.
That said one of the best things about "Ladies in Lavender" is that we see Dame Judi Dench and Dame Maggie Smith on screen together and not for the first time. These two great actresses are so natural together that you could imagine them living together in a similar way to the sisters in the movie and as such it is a pleasure to watch. The tetchiness of their relationship when Ursula's fondness for Andrea become apparent is brilliant but so is the way both of them become quite protective towards him when Olga, the artist, shows up. They are most definitely the stars of the movie making it as a charming as it is.
What this all boils down to is that "Ladies in Lavender" is surprisingly entertaining with its meandering tale of two elderly sisters and a young man. It is a period drama but it isn't stuffy and has a pleasant warmth about it with the performances of Judie Dench, Maggie Smith and Daniel Brühl delivering plenty of honest charm. But it is sadly flawed because it leaves too many unanswered questions which leaves you with too much to wonder about.