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4.3 out of 5 stars
My House In Umbria
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197 of 198 people found the following review helpful
on November 10, 2003
Format: DVD
I saw this lovely film on HBO, and it's to their immense credit that this film was seen at all. This film would never be released by a major studio these days. They are only concerned with huge blockbuster movies, yet anyone who cares about a strong, emotional story, set in gorgeous Umbria and starring Maggie Smith shouldn't miss this gem.
Maggie Smith stars as an aging romance novelist living in splendid isolation in her villa in the Umbrian countryside. On a shopping trip, the train she's traveling on is bombed by terrorists. When the dust is settled, Smith, and several of the travelers who shared her compartment, are in the hospital, including a little girl who has lost her parents. Smith generously offers her home as a refuge for the survivors to recuperate.
The traumatized little girl can't speak. Smith's heart goes out to her, and she does her best to make her as comfortable as possible. Smith's rather bohemian character, as well as her fondness for cocktails makes her a slightly madcap, tipsy hostess. Rather lonely of late, this unexpected intrusion in her life makes her feel needed. There's a young man with a secret to hide, and an older pensioner who round out the group. Then the little girl's uptight uncle (played with unstated eloquence by Chris Cooper) comes to take custody of his brother's orphaned daughter.
Smith is devasted by his coldness, his disapproval, and senses that he simply is taking the girl out of a sense of duty to his brother.
I won't give anymore of the plot away. Dame Maggie won a well-deserved Emmy for her superb portrayal of a middle-aged spinster, lonely for love, and with her own tragic past, who finds a purpose in her life in the aftermath of tragedy. The script is superb, the Italian settings and the gorgeous period costumes as well as fine work from a strong cast, make this a memorble viewing experience.
Nobody captures loneliness as truthfully as Dame Maggie. She's been doing it throughout her long career, as Rod Taylor's assistant in the bloated VIPs, as the headstrong teacher in THE PRME OF MISS JEAN BRODIE, as the actress nominated for an Oscar in CALIFORNIA SUITE, and countless other memorable screen portraits. Highly recommended.
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96 of 98 people found the following review helpful
on January 5, 2004
Format: VHS Tape
You can read some of the other reviews to get more of the gist of the plot, but I just want to add that this movie is well worth seeing. This movie should move you. Dame Maggie Smith,portraying an aging romance novelist, is elegant, understated, and honest. She shows in her anguish the depths of her depression as she senses old age coming upon her and her appeal as a woman all but snuffed out. The girl (I don't have her name on hand, unfortunately) who played the child who had lost both her parents in the bomb blast and was still in the early stages of recovery when her uncle wanted to uproot her from her new home in Umbria, was breathtakingly luminous. The young actress plays the part with such sincerity. She does not have much of a speaking role, but she becomes by way of the intermingling of the characters, the focal point of the movie. Her interaction with Mrs. Delahonte (sp?)(Maggie Smith) and with Werner, the young German, is deeply moving.As Mrs. Delahonte (sp?) becomes deeply attached to the young girl and it appears that this relationship will be tragically severed, you realize that the notion of family and emotional bonding is never defined by blood ties alone. The relationship between Mrs. Delahonte and the young girl is beautifully portrayed. This movie is timeless in its message: we all should forgive because we all have something for which we need to be forgiven.
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84 of 93 people found the following review helpful
on February 20, 2005
Format: DVDVerified Purchase
Writer Alan Bennett has been quoted as saying that we're "lucky to be living in her time." He was talking about Maggie Smith.

Bennett's observation seems a tad bittersweet. Yes, we're lucky to be living in her time because she's fabulous, but also because, unless we happen to catch her live on the West End stage, we aren't likely to see her in much of a leading part, ever. In fact, the noteworthy films in which this two-time Oscar winner has played the principal role basically consist of this made-for-HBO endeavor and *The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie* (1969).

The upshot is that *My House in Umbria* has a tremendous weight to bear--that of a legendary actress's best screen vehicle in thirty-five years. It seems a little unfair to judge it based on whether it's worthy of such a distinction, and I can't help wondering whether this accounts for some of this rather plotless film's, shall we say, generous critical reviews.

Still, the more times I see it--and it speaks volumes when I'm able to watch a movie more than once--the more I appreciate its leisurely, picturesque style, and the more uplifted I feel by its timely and refreshing theme: that of injured survivors being "set free" by their enjoyment of nature and each other.

And, ultimately, I begin to think of this movie as a vehicle worthy of its star, and as one in the recent string of high-quality HBO films that have been so good I've almost wanted to send the company a fan letter. Go, HBO.
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23 of 24 people found the following review helpful
on March 28, 2006
Format: DVD
A touching story made all the better by the excellent performances from all involved, especially of course Maggie Smith. One of the many nice things about her is that she has allowed herself to age naturally and gracefully, none of this facial makeover-business that make so many Hollywood eldsters look so ridiculous and pathetic. Maggie gives nobility to aging and is not ashamed to be seen under less than galmorous conditions.

That aside, I expected "My House In Umbria" to be more light-hearted than it was. Something about the title made me think that, I guess. Anyway, it was darker than I had anticipated, but that's not a complaint. It delved into real human issues (what happens to people after violence and death unexpectedly invade their lives). However, it avoids doing it in any really deep way, for better or worse. Some of the events that take place (don't read further if you haven't seen the film yet!!) seem unlikely: Why, for instance, would the German youth stay at her house so long, or at all for that matter, considering what he had done? Still, it's a touching film, one worth seeing for the humanity it contains.
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22 of 25 people found the following review helpful
Format: VHS Tape
I have put off watching "My House in Umbria" because having seen the trailers I assumed it was similar to "A Room With a View" or "My House in Tuscany." That was because the trailers emphasized the cast and the location rather than the plot. So when I finally watched this 2003 film made for HBO I was rather surprised to discover what "My House in Umbria" is all about.

The film is based on William Trevor's 1991 short novel. The house in Umbria belongs to Emily Delahunty (Maggie Smith), an aging romance novlist who boards a train for a shopping trip to Milan. She finds a seat in a crowded compartment where she joins an American family with a young daughter who likes to ask questions, a pair of young German lovers who are busy enjoying each other, and a retired English general and his family. Then a bomb goes off.

Most of the people in the compartment are killed by the blast. Along with Emily one member from each group surives the explosion and end up in the same hospital with varying degrees of wounds, both physical and psychological. Eventually Emily takes the other survivors back to her house in Umbria, where she and her faithful servant Quinty (Timothy Spall) continue to minister to their needs. But what has happened intrudes on this peaceful environment, first when an Italian police inspector (Giancarlo Giannini) shows up as part of the investigation of the bomb and then when Thomas Riversmith (Chris Cooper) arrives to claim his relative.

The character of Emily Delahunty is more compelling that the story. Played with a rather uncharacteristic restraint by Smith, she is a novelist who cannot help but see stories in the people she has taken into her home. I do not mean this in the sense that she wants to exploit their tragedy by writing a story but rather that her writer's imagination is always filing in the gaps regarding the lives of her visitors. A word or a look is enough for Emily to imagine the rest, spinning out the narrative in her mind. Based on these imaginings, whose accuracy is always in question, she reacts accordingly, and the question is whether she is healing herself at the same time she is trying so hard to heal these others.

Both Hugh Whitemore's script and director Richard Loncraine's do what they can to showcase Smith's performance. This dame Dame Maggie is not puling out all the stops but showing the importance of small things, like a quick glanced or a carefully nuances word. The police inspector and Riversmith both represent challenges to the way Emily sees the world, but out hearts if not out minds are with her efforts.
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11 of 11 people found the following review helpful
Format: DVDVerified Purchase
Every time I watch this, I like it better. The two most outstanding features are Maggie Smith and the Umbrian setting. Just to spend my viewing time looking at that house is heavenly. And Maggie Smith is an actress you can count on to give an outstanding performance. Then just look at her clothes -- see how great an older woman can look!! Well, the entire cast was very, very good. If there is a weak point, I would say it is the storybook ending; but that won't affect your general enjoyment. This is a romatic film about wonderfully drawn characters in a beautiful setting. Love it.
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15 of 17 people found the following review helpful
VINE VOICEon March 16, 2006
Format: DVD
Dame Maggie Smith, known most recently by much of the world as Harry Potter's Professor McGonagall, plays an English-born woman living in Italy who has been through the worst of life and come out determined to smile. Like many European films (it's not...it's HBO), this begins as though it may be a bit dull, then quickly shifts into intrigue, discovery, and self-reflection -- supported nicely by a lot of charm, friendship, and subtle humor.

Actually, part of the charm that you may at first deem unbelievable is the quick bond of friendship and trust that develops between victims of a bombing. It appears to be the kind of thing that might have happened 50 years ago, but not today. But then, it DOES take place in Italy...and bombings of that nature are no longer so distant to any of us today. So, it quickly becomes easy to overlook this slight quirk and simply enjoy the thoughts, feelings, disappointments, and quirkiness of the film's characters. And quirky they are.

At the very least, you'll enjoy quietly brilliant performances by Smith, the wonderful Giancarlo Giannini, Oscar-winner Chris Cooper, the relentless Timothy Spall, classic English comic Ronnie Barker (one of his last), and others.

Yes, it's "only" an HBO film, but they're doing some of the best films AND television around right now. I'm not saying this deserves either an Oscar or to be among your favorites, but it is simply very enjoyable and well worth seeing.
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17 of 20 people found the following review helpful
on October 12, 2004
Format: DVD
I rented this film, because I wanted to see Maggie Smith's performance, and the landscapes. I wasn't expecting it to touch me, and I assumed it to be a light comedy like Under The Tuscan Sun Or Tea With Musolini kind of films. It's a simple story of unconditional love and dealing with ones demons and shadows from the past. Maggie Smith did a great job at revealing her character's inner layers and I was very simpathetic towards her, and understood why she was so eccentric and self-absorbing. She's misunderstood by most people except the little girl whom she had connected to in many ways. Ultimately, she uses all her life experiences and pain and the people around her as material for her novels. It's amazing to realize that her character is a real survivor of hardship and struggle. By the time Chris Cooper resent the little girl back to Maggie Smith to live with her in Umbria, the joy and happiness finally eclipsed the past. It was wonderful to see Smith in a wonderful role so opposite from her super-snob role in Gosford Park. I was so touched by the ending scene, and I think this is going to be one of my all time favorite Maggie Smith films.
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48 of 61 people found the following review helpful
VINE VOICEon April 15, 2006
Format: DVD
Emily Delahunty (Maggie Smith) lives through a deadly train bombing. She and other survivors recover and go to live together in
her large home in Umbria.

This movie has a talented cast, spectacular scenery, and a chic wardrobe, but the script is weak. Nothing much happens after the opening; everyone just sits around living the good life. Maggie Smith's character is the only one that is developed and she is excellent, but the plot goes nowhere.

The story proceeds in a lackadaisical fashion and I assumed it was building to something worthwhile. It wasn't.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
on May 25, 2007
Format: DVDVerified Purchase
Maggie Smith lovers should not be without this HBO film. Age cannot hamper nor time diminish the beauty of this woman and her work. The story conveys the richness of rising above pain by giving as much love and understanding as one can in return. Supported by a superb cast, the film encompasses mystery, humor and pathos, not to mention the beauty of the landscape. Maggie rules!
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