Venus

2006, Movie, R, 95 mins

Review

VENUS
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Roger Michell and Hanif Kureishi hand veteran actor Peter O'Toole the role of a late-career lifetime in this low-key drama about the persistence of sensuality. Once a devastatingly handsome heartthrob, aging English performer Maurice (O'Toole) is reduced to playing decrepit hospital patients in TV dramas, and not many at that. He and his old friend Ian (Leslie Phillips), a fusspot of the first order, spend most of their time sitting around inexpensive London cafes, trading war stories about the glory days and bemoaning the various indignities of old age in grandly theatrical terms — you can banish an old Shakespearian from the stage, but you can't make him stop declaiming. The biggest news either has had in ages is that Ian's grandniece, Jessie (Jodie Whittaker), will be coming to stay with him; he envisions a nice young woman who'll help with cooking, cleaning and generally act as a companion, but what arrives is a sullen guttersnipe in a pink velour tracksuit whose only apparent interests are gobbling junk food and watching television. "She's vile," Leslie wails, and begs Maurice's help getting her to leave as soon as possible. But Maurice sees potential in the boorish Jessie and sets about polishing her rough charm, encouraging Jessie to read — literature, not supermarket tabloids — and taking her to museums and to the theater, where the attention he's paid at intermission hints at the celebrity Maurice once was. Maurice's interest isn't especially paternal; a lifelong ladies' man, he's frankly as interested in Jessie's body as he is in her mind, though he's perfectly aware that in his declining state of health, there isn't much he could do about his infatuation even if Jessie were amenable, which she isn't. Though built on a shaky foundation — unrequited lust on the one hand, youthful opportunism on the other — they develop a surprisingly rich and powerful bond. A companion piece to Michell and Kureishi's THE MOTHER (2004) — in which an older widow's affair with a much younger man who is simultaneously involved with her daughter rattles her long-standing relationships — VENUS is rooted in the resilient and mutable nature of desire. Though O'Toole, whose ruined beauty Michell emphasizes in frequent and tight close-ups, and newcomer Whittaker have a striking rapport, the film's most haunting moments pair him with Vanessa Redgrave — amazingly, this is their first movie together — as his ex-wife. They evoke a lifetime of love, betrayal, regret and forgiveness in the space of a few lines, then move on without missing a beat. leave a comment --Maitland McDonagh

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