Ladies in Lavender, 2004, UK
Ursula (Judi Dench) and Janet (Maggie Smith) are two sisters living in rural England in the 1930s. Both women never married; Ursula is a bit naïve and immature, whereas Janet is world-weary and stoic. After a bad storm, a young man named Andrea (Daniel Brühl) washes ashore. He’s Polish and doesn’t speak much English, but the sisters take him in and care for him. He’s a gifted violinist, which draws the attention of the townsfolk, who are intrigued by the mysterious visitor. When an opportunity comes up for Andrea to leave the small town, the sisters, especially Ursula, are distraught, and do everything they can to keep him around.
At its heart, Ladies in Lavender is an examination of unfulfilled dreams. Janet lost her fiancé in the war, and Ursula has never experienced love. All they have is each other, their house, and their neighbours. Andrea represents youth, and the possibility to dream once more. Ursula, who is infatuated with Andrea, is longing for a life she never had. It was very bittersweet, and both Dench and Smith are brilliant. I completely bought Ursula’s childlike naiveté, and Smith’s irritation with her sister. And Brühl is very good as Andrea. We never learn much about Andrea or the circumstances behind his washing up onshore, but I found that was appropriate. Andrea represents fantasy, and lost opportunities for love to these two women.
I really enjoyed the film. It was an interesting examination of the interwar period, and how the First World War affected people and their attitudes towards those they deemed outsiders. Many of the townsfolk were distrustful of Andrea, and especially Olga (Natascha McElhone), a painter visiting the town. The war has created prejudice and suspicion – even among Ursula and Janet. It’s also very much an examination of the status of women at that time: if you didn’t marry young or lost your fiancé, you were likely doomed to a life of chastity. Ursula’s infatuation for Andrea was terribly awkward, but it was also tragic. Under different circumstances, she could have found love.
I ended up purchasing a copy of the film, as it wasn’t available to rent on either Apple TV or Netflix. That is one small thing I miss about the Blockbuster I visited growing up…they often had old copies of slightly more obscure films like this one! Regardless, if you can get your hands on a copy of this film, it’s very much worth watching!