196 of 200 people found the following review helpful
on July 29, 2006
I've just read the other reviews on this page and am a little annoyed at the lacklustre comments on this little gem of a film that has sat in my DVD collection for the last 18 months until today when I finally got to watch it. It is a completely amazing film. One of the reasons I suppose it took me so long to get around to actually watching it is the in my view really bad cover artwork and a really bad title. However the film itself is so beautifully crafted trust me.
The physical setting is superb, really timeless & beautiful. Judi Dench is TOTALLY tremendous without a shadow of a doubt. Daniel Bruhl is completely perfect! The whole film is amazing.
There's a fair bit of interest for the classical music enthusiast too. The violin music (played by Joshua Bell!) is WONDERFUL.
My one and ONLY criticism in the whole film is that Maggie Smith's character wasn't drawn out a bit more. She is the fine dame of British acting and a real favourite so it was a pity. However I'm reluctant to mention this really as this film really scores 100% for me.
95 of 98 people found the following review helpful
on April 15, 2007
Imagine you are walking through a great art museum, overwhelmed by one massive canvas after another. In your rapture you almost walk right past a tiny painting in the corner, an unassuming, faultless Vermeer. That is this movie. Watch it on its own terms, in its own time, and you will certainly love it.
Ladies In Lavender is a star vehicle for two British Grande Dames, Judi Dench and Maggie Smith - that's hard to beat for star power. (Indeed, the only thing missing in this movie is Helen Mirren.) Almost everything except the plot fuels the story, the plot is so small it would be easily lost in the garden these sisters keep. Place is massively important, and brilliantly recreated. Pace is massively important; these people lead simple, slow lives. Most of all, emotional nuance drives the bus here, Maggie Smith can say more with a furrowed brow than any ten Hollywood actors with a well-polished script.
The film invites adult viewers to take an adult look at the many different forms love takes, and their consequences. From the bitter and cynical aging doctor, to the painfully vulnerable and naive Ursula, Dench, to the cool yet kind Janet, Smith, this film weaves leitmotifs with such a deft hand you barely notice. The young man, Andrea, is played adequately by Daniel Bruhl, while Olga, young, manipulative, and ambitious, is the girl everyone loves to hate because she seems to have it all. Olga is played by Natascha McElhone. Ms. McElhone is fortunate to have been blessed with model-esque good looks; if you look carefully you can see her being out-acted by a footstool, a washstand, and a pair of knitting needles.
Those who enjoy metaphor and symbolism will not have to meditate overly long before realizing that the love these aging sisters bestow on their innocent foundling is a give and take proposition. Ultimately they commit the greatest act of selflessness any person can, they must free their "child" and let him live. (Irony here since they are what used to be charmingly referred to as "barren.") In so doing, they allow a great talent to bloom - sharing it with the world. This brings us to the film's other star, Joshua Bell. Bell provides the actual violin virtuosity behind the scenes, and his technique and range are chilling - from barn dance sawing rowdy enough to set the Strad on fire, to subtle trills that could make the hairs on the back of your neck stand up. Yes!
122 of 128 people found the following review helpful
on June 17, 2007
"Ladies in Lavender" (2004) is a film starring two of the best British actresses, Dame Judy Dench and Dame Maggie Smith as two lonely sisters, a widow and an old maid who live quietly and uneventfully in their cottage on the seaside in Cornwall, England. The film takes place in 1936 before the WWII begins. One morning, the sisters discover a young man, almost a boy injured and washed ashore near their home and their lives were changed forever. The sisters take the boy in and care for him. As time passes, they learn that Andrea was on the ship heading to America where he hoped to become a professional musician. Andrea is extremely talented violinist and one day, his playing attracts the attention of a young Russian woman -painter, Olga who lives in the village. Olga's brother is a world renowned violinist and she is ready to offer the boy the chance of his life but the sisters, especially Ursula (Dench) seems very reluctant to let Andrea and Olga communicate. Ursula who never been married feels deep tenderness, warmth, and longing for Andrea that she has difficulty to hide. Her sister who is very close and compassionate to her sees quite well what goes on but she also understands that some dreams would always stay just the beautiful dreams...
The main reason to see the movie is acting and chemistry between two beloved actresses, both in their 70s and both on the top of their profession. As for the story of two lonely elderly sisters in their coastal home, it was told better in Lindsay Anderson's "Whales in August" (1987) that starred Bette Davis and Lillian Gish, and Anderson's film does not have a young foreign boy to make it compelling and moving. The verbal and silent communication between two sisters as played by Gish and Davis makes the earlier movie a quiet and poignant gem. As for the unrequited tender vulnerable love that comes when one least expects it and that makes the life of an older person heaven and hell at the same time, watch "Death in Venice", the tragic masterpiece by Luchino Visconti.
56 of 58 people found the following review helpful
"Ladies in Lavender" tells the tale of two elderly sisters, Ursula (Judi Dench) and Janet (Maggie Smith), who share an ancient cottage in Cornwall, England on the eve of WWII. One morning after a violent storm, they find a young man washed up on the beach, more dead than alive. They take him in and tend to him, quickly discovering that he speaks no English, but he speaks German and says he is Polish. The fact that he speaks German arouses local suspisions, as the villagers wonder if he could be a German spy.
Time passes quickly, and Andrea (Spanish-German Daniel Bruhl, better known for 2003's Good Bye, Lenin!) quickly proves his talent with the violin. Matters are complicated when both of the sisters fall for Andrea. The tender, naive Ursula seems to have never had a beau, and despite the great age difference between her and Andrea, clearly is pondering a sexual relationship with him. Janet tries to rein her in, to no effect.
A mysterious, beautiful stranger named Olga is also a newcomer to the village. Although she, too, speaks German (and French), she is Russian, sister of the famous violin virtuoso Boris Danilof. This important information is withheld from Andrea, as the sisters strive to keep him for themselves, but Andrea is miserable at having his career as a concert violinist kept at arm's length. He begins to spend more and more time with Olga, to the distaste of Ursula and Janet, and in a fateful conversation, he is told of Olga's identity and of her famous brother, who wants to meet Andrea. His conscience torments him at having to make the choice between leaving the kind-hearted sisters and seizing his rightful place in the concert halls of the world.
Ursula's childish love affair with Andrea is heartbreaking. She asks Janet about her dead beau several times, asking "if you really loved him." Janet catches Ursula in Andrea's room at night, touching him while he is asleep. And in a brief dream sequence, we see Ursula as a young woman, rolling about in the fields with Andrea. She is so fragile, so naive, and heartbroken when Andrea ultimately makes his choice, that Judi Dench's performance can be hard to watch in these scenes.
Beautiful cinematography of Cornwall, a gorgeous soundtrack with virtuoso Joshua Bell, two legends of British theater, and a strong supporting cast makes "Ladies in Lavender" another example of why British cinema is some of the best out there. Fans of "The Red Violin" and musical/historical dramas will do well to check out "Ladies in Lavender."
17 of 18 people found the following review helpful
If you enjoy quirky, but touching little films like Local Hero, My House in Umbria, Arthur's Dyke, and Chocolat, you'll enjoy Ladies in Lavender. The plot alone sets up the bittersweet nature of the film - English spinster sisters find a young foreign man unconscious on their beach and nurse him back to health, sparking unexpected feelings of love, insecurity, and foolishness. But the film's humorous moments, of which there are many, are sprinkled lightly throughout to add a smile and keep the overall tone light, despite some otherwise sad occurrences.
The entire cast is wonderful, including a tremendous bunch of eccentric villagers that "introduce" the young man to England, but best of all are the sisters played by Dames Judi Dench and Maggie Smith. Both are at their quietly graceful best, imbuing every scene with the subtle sense of reality that we've come to expect from them.
Also worth noting is the Special Features section of the DVD. I don't usually watch those much, but I was glad I did this time. Without getting into the long-winded "making of the film" stuff that often spoils the illusion for me, it offers a short interview with the director and the two lead actresses. It was well worth the few minutes it takes to watch.
14 of 15 people found the following review helpful
on August 24, 2006
This is a lovely tale that shows that love and emotion is not only timeless but knows no geographic boundaries. Two sisters in the autumn of their life --(Ursula) Judi Dench and (Janet) Maggie Smith are living an ordinary life in Cornwall (Southern England near the seasore) in pre-world War II England when their world turns extraordinary as a young Polish foreigner Andrea (Daniel Bruhl -- GOOD BY LENIN!) washes ashore badly injured near their coastal home. The surprise visitor (and guest) at their home changes them dramatically -- for Janet it awakens motherly insticts, for Ursula (Dench)the presence of the gorgeous and talented young man touches a romantic part of her that has been dormant her whole life...and brings out naive responses that are so human. For the visiting artist down the road Natascha McElhone the young man's amazing musical talent touches not only her awareness of brilliance and importance of living out your potential...the local folks in Cornwall -- who are a breed of their own -- they even speak a kind of Gaelic are wary and later even suspicious of what this young man means to a pre-war England...could he be a spy? Who is that other foreigner who speaks German-- the artist...For the two sisters...the artist seems to interfere in their little triad of the two sisters and Andrea....charming, tear jerker that seems to be a modern type fairy tale (as noted on the special interview with the screenwriter and stars on the DVD supplement). It ties up very sweetly and can be a bit maudlin ....but then it's always good to suspend disbelief and believe in romance for awhile...beautiful scenery....see this on a VERY HOT AUGUST day and it will bring you a cool breeze of change....
13 of 14 people found the following review helpful
on April 14, 2006
I'm trying to find fault with this movie, but coming up empty. Unless it's the film's "fault" that I stayed up way too late, watching it in its entirety twice. Yet I can't complain because it was worth it. The first time I laughed aloud a lot; not many reviewers here mention the humor, but it's present alright; just presented subtly by the fine acting talents of Maggie Smith and Judi Dench (and others), making it all the more delightful. "Ladies in Lavender" is sweetly moving as well, as the two spinster sisters living in Cornwall in the 1930's receive an unexpected "guest" who suddenly rocks their world. So I was compelled to watch it immediately a second time, to prolong the enjoyment. Yes, there are unlikely coincidences; yet in director Charles Dance's hands, it doesn't matter. The story plays out well regardless, with just the right emphasis in just the right moments to make it seamless. Actually, viewers will discover when they watch the DVD extras that there were coincidences involved in the making of this movie that were just as unlikely...Mind you, these extra features include none of the boring, ego-driven minutiae that one usually encounters in these formats; just brief interviews with the Grand Dames and Mr. Dance that illuminate the process and enhance one's enjoyment of it.
I thank Charles Dance for choosing to make a short story that he happened upon, called "Ladies in Lavender", as his directorial debut. Part of the real-life coincidence was that he was able to cast the perfect actors for it as well, and this actor/director collaboration is superb. I look forward eagerly to more of his (or their) efforts. BRAVO!
13 of 14 people found the following review helpful
on December 9, 2005
What a surprise and what a pleasure. I was persuaded to watch this film, and did so reluctantly. I thought it would be boring and maudlin. The story line seemed unappealing.
I am so very happy to say I was totally and completely wrong.
Unlike earlier reviewers, I did not find the story thin or questionable. I found it very human, poignant and touching. Judi Dench and Maggie Smith are, as always, superb, and a joy to watch working together.
The entire cast was excellent. Other reviewers have gone into the plot quite thoroughly, so perhaps better not to reiterate those details.
I can only say that I was delighted and enchanted. If you are weary of slick, predictable formula films, too many super heroes, too much hideous violence and ugliness, and an overabundance of special effects, then perhaps you too will be charmed. Only the British can do something of this nature successfully.
This film is also visually beautiful. It takes place in Cornwall, one of the most magical places on the face of this earth.
Bravo Charles Dance. This film is a real treasure. I, for one, anticipate watching this
many times over.
13 of 15 people found the following review helpful
on September 25, 2006
Consider, for a moment, the two female leads of Ladies in Lavender. Each is titled "Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire"--Judi Dench in 1988, Maggie Smith two years later in 1990. Dame Judi was further bestowed the title "Companion of Honour" in 2005 by HRM Elizabeth II. This is an honor (pardon my Americanization: HONOUR) so rare that only 65 living people in the world have it bestowed at any given time, and of those 65, only 45 may be citizens of the United Kingdom.
Then there's the fact that they're literally only days apart in age, both being born in December 1934; Dench in Yorkshire, Smith in Essex (Dench is the elder, if you just have to know). Between them they have received: 11 Oscar nominations and 3 wins; 14 Golden Globe nominations and 4 wins; 4 Emmy nominations and 1 win; and (lest we forget their roots on the legitimate stage) 4 Tony nominations and 2 wins. And that's just the story on THIS side of the pond!
To the younger audiences, Dame Judi's known for playing "M" in the most recent spate of "James Bond" movies and her (some say notorious) Best Supporting Actress Oscar win for an eight-minute performance in 1998's charming comedy "Shakespeare in Love." Dame Maggie is in constant view in previous and forthcoming "Harry Potter" films. Go back a bit farther and Dame Judi is fondly remembered for the 1992-2002 Britcom "As Time Goes By," a tender and endearing story about a post-Korean-era British soldier and nurse who have a brief love affair and then lose touch because of a lost letter, only to find each other again nearly four decades later. It is still seen on a revolving basis on BBC America and on many local PBS affiliate stations. Go back farther still, and there's Dame Judi's early 1980s Britcom with her husband, the late Michael Williams, trying to make a difficult relationship work in "A Fine Romance." And before that, Dame Maggie won her own Oscar, for Best Actress in the 1969 career pinnacle about a stiff, unhappy schoolmarm, "The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie."
Why am I droning on an on, essentially giving these ladies' biographies before getting to the film? It's because, ladies and gentlemen, when Dench and Smith appear together, as they often have and many times by popular demand, it's difficult to watch anyone else, anything else, and/or anywhere else. If you're not necessarily familiar with these two British actresses, who are essentially living icons in their native U.K., you can't help but sometimes forget there's anyone else on the screen.
Such may be the case with LADIES IN LAVENDER, a quiet story about elderly sisters Ursula and Janet Widdington, played by Dench and Smith, respectively. As residents of a fishing village along southwest England's Cornwall coast, enjoying their leisurely 1936 summer in their beachfront cottage, their mundane routine is torn asunder when a young man washes ashore, following a violent storm, along the rocks below their cottage. The ladies (particularly Ursula) do their best to nurse him back to health in their late father's bedroom and, after a doctor's examination reveals nothing more serious than a broken ankle, begin to attempt conversation once he finally awakens.
Communication proves difficult, until Janet's broken German suffices enough to coax German responses from the injured man, who we finally learn is a Polish man named Andrea Marowski (played by Daniel Bruhl), but who also speaks German fluently.
As Marowski continues to improve, the tight-knit Cornish village becomes abuzz with intrigue and suspicion as news of this German-speaking stranger spreads. Hitler has been Chancellor of Germany for three years and is already building his Nazi Party into a worrisome group of seemingly escalating aggressors. And even though the fall of Poland and the official start of World War II is still three years hence, Europe is growing ever more anxious.
But Marowski harbors a hidden talent that, when exposed, calms even the most skeptical townsfolk. When a neighbor attempts to please him by playing his violin, the stranger turns the tables and actually shows the local how to really play. When Marowski bravely attends the local Saturday night dance and livens things up with an uptempo native Polish ditty (yes, he can "fiddle," too), seemingly all of the townspeople's fears are allayed.
Yet while Marowski heals and begins to get comfortable in his new surroundings, he is oblivious to the fact that Ursula (Dench) is falling in love with him. He reminds her of that one heart-shattering love of her life that stayed with her all of her years, and his very presence has rekindled emotions she has not recognized in literally decades. Meanwhile, Janet (Smith) first refuses to acknowledge what she thinks she is observing, then tries to dismiss it as a quirky May-December (or rather December-May) crush, but then realizes that she must speak to Ursula before her heart is irretrievably--and inevitably--broken.
For Janet, love was painful. Love was bitterness. Of the two sisters, she was the married one, but hers was uniformly unhappy. Her marriage cost Janet her soul, and the sad irony of its abrupt end was that her soldier-husband would only go on to die in World War I, leaving her with the bitter memories to live within for all the ensuing years. It was, therefore, her unhappy but necessary duty to bring Ursula to her senses and realize the futility of her fantasies with Andrea.
Giving away too much plot from here on would ultimately ruin the story, so I'll merely offer additional cast information beginning with the stunningly beautiful Natascha McElhone as Olga Daniloff, a neighbor on summer holidays who overhears and becomes entranced by Andrea's violin playing. McElhone may be known to American audiences as the nun trying to stop the End of Days from arriving in the 2005 NBC limited series "Revelations"; and she also appeared as George Clooney's late wife (who still appears to him in visions) in the 2002 sci-fi feature "Solaris." (November 2007 update: McElhone is also receiving raves for her new role in the hit pay-cable network Showtime series "Californication," which has already been renewed for a second season in summer 2008. She appears as the long-suffering ex-girlfriend of series star David Duchovny ["The X-Files"], a slacker writer still riding the long-forgotten memories of a single hit book, still desperately in love with McElhone with whom he shares a daughter--despite the fact he never bothered to marry her. As the first season comes to a close, she has married her new boyfriend but has ditched him at the reception and literally runs off with Duchovny and their daughter. McElhone trades her natural British accent for an American one in this series, which has raised eyebrows for its frank nudity and raw language, even by pay-cable standards.)
Andrea's doctor is played by renowned character actor David Warner, who has a penchant for playing the bad guy. He is smitten with Olga and is enraged when she falls for Andrea. Warner's voluminous credits include the most successful film of all time, 1997's "Titanic"; the 1990-91 ABC series "Twin Peaks"; and as a time-traveling Jack the Ripper in the much-praised hit 1979 film "Time After Time," opposite Malcolm McDowell as H.G. Wells and Mary Steenburgen as a (very confused and frightened) present-day San Francisco bank teller. But to "Star Trek"kers, Warner is an icon, having appeared in "Star Trek V: The Final Frontier" (1989); "Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country" (1991), the final film to feature the entire cast from the original 1966-69 "Star Trek" TV series; and in the TV spinoff series "Star Trek: The Next Generation."
Daniel Bruhl is a relative newcomer, born in 1978 to a Spanish mother and a German father. He was raised in Barcelona but grew up in Cologne (thus, the flawless German!), and his English, at least in this film, was also seemingly flawless. He is mainly known for the 2003 European releases "Goodbye, Lenin!" and "The Edukators." As Andrea Marowski, he had the horrific task of learning to simulate the playing of the violin as a virtuoso would (like, say Joshua Bell--but more on that later). Bruhl does a wonderful job in this regard, and according to the CD soundtrack notes accompanying this film's DVD (I also review the CD soundtrack; please check it out!), his violin coach, Oliver Lewis, felt that Daniel did so well that the "live" playing in the film is actually, truly live, being played by Lewis just off-camera while being "string-synched" by Bruhl on-camera. Between the two, they find a physical rhythm that makes the viewer truly believe that Bruhl is playing the violin.
A special mention must be made about the raw, funny, and endearing performance by Miriam Margolyes, as the longtime family maid, Dorcas. Dorcas' family probably had to pull itself up by its bootstraps while she was a young lass, and so she offers herself as she is, warts and all. When she feels that Andrea's time as "houseguest" has come to an end, she puts him to work, including peeling potatoes--or, as she pronounces in her thickest Cornish accent, "spoohds" (better known in the American version of the English language as "spuds"). Watch for the scene between just the two of them, in which Andrea is decidedly not pleased with his new chore and, shall we say, "converses" with Dorcas in an alternate language--WITH alternate language. It's hysterical.
And finally, kudos to first-time screenwriter and director Charles Dance, who prior to LADIES IN LAVENDER had been exclusively known--and reknowned--as one of Britain's foremost actors, as both leading man and character actor. He was equally at home in a love story as he was playing the villain, although as he continues to age, the latter are the characters for which he is becoming better known. (Aren't we all?) He played the virulent lawyer Tulkinghorn in PBS' 2005 miniseries adaptation of Charles Dickens' "Bleak House," which recently won two Emmy Awards. He also recently appeared in one of PBS' "Mystery: Agatha Christie's 'Miss Marple'" presentations, was a male lead opposite Sigourney Weaver in 1992's "Alien 3," and has appeared in countless Shakespearean productions.
In LADIES IN LAVENDER, Dance takes on the original story by William J. Locke and remains behind the camera. His experience as an actor pays off immensely. The story is gentle, the pace is pleasantly meandering, the volume is decidedly low (except for the Saturday dance, of course). But along with his director of photography, Peter Biziou, Dance frames a beautiful tableau of a time gone by: not just for the viewer, but also for the characters of Ursula and Janet. Ursula looks at Andrea and is instantly swept back to her youth of 50 years ago; Janet is swept back to her youth also, but all that is accomplished for her is the reminder of a painful marriage and the further need to nip Ursula's fancy in the bud immediately.
There remain unanswered questions for the viewer. The boat incident with Andrea is never fully explained, whether it was merely the storm that caused his fall into the water or something more sinister, say possibly something Nazi-related.
And then once lovely Olga sweeps into Andrea's life, he virtually tosses the Widdington sisters aside for Olga's idea (you must see the film or else it'd ruin the plot), and the possibility of the random chances that ensue for Andrea and his life from that point on stretch credibility to the point of almost being farcical. But, not having read the original story, I don't know whether to criticize Locke's story or Dance's screenplay, so I'll reserve judgment and give Dance the benefit of the doubt.
Finally, there is still another character that is not seen, but it is definitely heard. The Nigel Hess original soundtrack (no, it's not classical music written by some 18th-century composer, though you'll swear it is), features the artistry of American violin virtuoso Joshua Bell and is utterly mesmerizing. After I watched the film, I kept going back over the credits again and again until I was able to find the goods on the soundrack availability.
Readers, you simply must pick up the Ladies in Lavender ORIGINAL MOTION PICTURE SOUNDTRACK. If you find this review helpful and buy the DVD or watch the film on cable, and if you enjoy the music as much as I did, I strongly suggest that you pick up the soundtrack featuring Joshua Bell on violin and the brilliant composer, Nigel Hess, on piano. The soundtrack CD is also available for purchase right here on amazon.com. I did, and I haven't stopped listening to it yet. In fact, I have a review of the soundtrack here on amazon.com as well, if you care to take a look at it.
Nigel Hess' original soundtrack is simply beautiful, and it covers all of the layers: it is just "classical" enough to sound like it could have been written by one of the masters of the 17th or 18th centuries, yet it is so melodical that it stands up to any contemporary classical album/CD available. It is essential to this film, and if you enjoy listening to the sweetest notes to ever flow from the strings of artists like Jascha Heifetz, Eugene Fodor, Yehudi Menuhin, Itzhak Perlman, Isaac Stern, Pinchas Zukerman, or even contemporary pop-classical crossover artists like Midori Goto or Andre Rieu, this film's soundtrack is a must for your CD collection. If your violin tastes tend more toward bluegrass, or even Jack Benny, perhaps you should sit this one out.
Joshua Bell is destined to be one of the U.S.' great violin virtuosos of all time, and he's very much well on his way already. As of this review, the Indiana native is still in his 30s, handsome as a movie star, is a Grammy Award-winner and performed on the Oscar-winning scores of the films "The Red Violin" (1999) and "Iris" (2001), and among his many credits can also add a recent recording with another pop-classical crossover artist, singer Josh Groban. The soundtrack also features the deft piano performances of soundtrack composer Hess and Simon Mulligan.
If you haven't fallen asleep reading this review yet, I won't fault the script for obvious lapses in logic for their necessities in bringing the film to a satisfying, if not wistful, conclusion. The supporting cast is superb, the camera fills the screen with lush beauty and gorgeous sea- and landscapes, Charles Dance's direction shows an actor's affinity for an actor's point of view, but...
The name of the film is LADIES IN LAVENDER, and in the end, it is the grand Dames whom you cannot stop watching. Dames Judi Dench and Maggie Smith are simply magnificent. Their characters couldn't be more different, and at the same time they couldn't be more alike. There are many wise, world-weary years behind their eyes and in their souls, and they fill the screen and share them with you from the opening frame. Utterly superb (and I still wish I could give half-stars, because it would be 4-1/2 instead of just 4).
Rating: **** (out of 5) 25 Sept 06; updated 24 Jan 08 -- BOB BOURBEAU
11 of 12 people found the following review helpful
on September 3, 2006
This film displays the brilliance and talent of two of the classiest women in show-business, Judi Dench and Maggie Smith. Miriam Margolyes is also wonderful as the maid. The setting is absolutely beautiful in Cornwall, England, and the story is quite touching, with a tasteful mix of humor. You will fall in love with this film and these wonderful British ladies.