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LADIES IN LAVENDER (article first published : 2005-04-4)

Having teamed before in Tea With Mussolini and A Room With a View, dames and Oscar-winners Judi Dench and Maggie Smith unite once again, this time in leading roles, in Ladies In Lavender, a leisurely and broody drama opening locally today.

Marking the directing debut of actor Charles Dance, who is also responsible for the screenplay, adapted from a short story by William J Locke, the film has two of Britain's most impressive talents playing spinster sisters - Janet (Smith) and Ursula (Dench).

They spend their autumn years, in the mid-30s, going through a neat, quiet and ordered life that they share in a quaint cottage. This perches on a cliff overlooking the Cornwall coast, where reading, knitting, listening to the radio and taking walks on the shingle beach take up most of their time.

Ursula and Janet lead a seemingly idyllic life, but an undercurrent of brittleness, however slight, flows between them as, for all their decades together, they have never fully come to grips with their differences and missed opportunities.

Their routine is broken one morning, after a terrible storm, when Ursula notices what turns out to be a young man (Goodbye Lenin's Daniel Bruhl) on the beach, where he has seemingly been washed ashore.

The sisters have him taken to their cottage, nurse him back to health and, over the weeks that follow, learn -through perseverance and the use of a dictionary - that he is from Poland. They learn, too, that he has a secret to share. And Ursula starts to discover, quite to her surprise, that she has feelings for the fresh-faced youth that she never knew she had.

It goes without saying that the acting is superb in a film that also features chubby Miriam Margolyes as a n earthy housemaid and Natascha McElhone as German neighbour who takes an interest in the young Pole.

By turns touching and amusing, juggling warmth with wit, this elegant and engaging film gets a rating of 8/10. - Billy Suter




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