April 9, 2010

For The Love of Peter O'Toole: Venus

Venus (Roger Michell, 2006)
Role: Aging actor Maurice Russell

Full disclosure again: I love this film. I probably shouldn't but something about its simple elegance really gets to me. I really have no defense for my position because it's just as sentimental as My Favorite Year, if not more so. I also have a great weakness for another Roger Michell film, Notting Hill. That's right, Notting Hill. Deal with it. O'Toole's character Maurice is pretty much an alternate version of himself, although screenwriter Hanif Kareshi denies it was written with O'Toole in mind. And I can actually believe that, considering how many aging, English ex-boozing, ex-womanizing stage and screen actors there are (rifle through the cast lists of the Harry Potter films, you might be surprised). In fact, acting legends Leslie Philips and Richard Griffiths play Maurice's best friends, and Vanessa Redgrave plays his ex-wife.

Maurice has a hard time booking any acting gigs that aren't men dying of horrible diseases or even better still, corpses. His best friend (Philips) has to take in his niece, a low-class "sluttish young woman" as O'Toole was fond of saying in press interviews. Philips is horrified, O'Toole is intrigued. What follows is not what you would expect. Although the extremity of the May-December aspect of the story never truly goes away, the film is much more subtle and realistic that you would probably expect. I was really impressed with the honesty and integrity of the screenplay. It's never dumbed down for you and constantly challenges the viewers' assumptions about character and plot. I liked that a lot. Check out this scene where Jessie (Jodie Whittaker) and O'Toole talk about a tragedy in her past. Great acting by both.

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