Reviewed by Darren Bevan

Venus is not what you’d expect – written by Hanif Kureishi who caused outrage with the Buddha of Suburbia back in the UK, it’s a bittersweet tale of a dying actor who manages to find some solace in the folly of youth.

When we first meet Peter O’Toole’s character, ageing actor Maurice Russell, he is swapping pills with geriatric partner in crime, Ian (played with cantankerous delight by veteran Brit actor Leslie Phillips) and desperately clinging on to some form of life.

But turmoil is on the way for Ian in the form of his grand-niece Jessie (played by Jodie Whittaker). She’s been brought in to look after him in his twilight years, a kind of elderly nurse – however, it soon becomes clear she has no real desire to be brought from the north of England to London suburbia to care for him. The first time we see Jessie, she is decked out in typical chav garb looking like a garish Vicky Pollard from Little Britain in a pink tracksuit and piling junk food into her face, while declaring she wants to be a model.

After a few days, Ian is horrified at how little she actually cares for him – but for Maurice, it’s an eye opener; a chance at a late second life and one which he grabs with a pair of (what some may perceive to be) lecherous hands. As time goes on, their friendship grows – until tragedy comes knocking.

I wasn’t expecting to be so entertained by this film – it’s everyone’s fear (or maybe just mine) over how their twilight years will play out and whether we’ll grow old disgracefully, losing our dignity in a haze of pills, surgery and the relentless onslaught of dementia. I’ll even confess that I’d written off the film within the first few minutes expecting it to be a stereotyped portrait of a lecherous old man’s friendship with a teenage girl.

Don’t get me wrong – there are tones of Lolita in O’Toole’s treatment of Jessie, whom he names Venus after the Diego Velasquez painting following a visit to a London gallery. But O’Toole’s performance, all twinkling blue eyed malevolence, is such a wonderfully breezy turn that it’s impossible not to get caught up in the last love of his life which he feels.

Director Roger Michell does a reasonable job – but it’s the dialogue and script which sparkles and engages; in one of the more memorable diatribes, O’Toole relents the fact that Jessie doesn’t know who wrote the dagger speech from MacBeth – to which she quickly retorts, asking him to tell her who wrote the words “I should be so lucky, lucky, lucky, lucky” (It’s Kylie by the way – would hate for you to suffer). It’s that kind of light touch which makes the inter-generational friendship between the pair more plausible – and ultimately more tragic when it goes slightly ajar.

The only minor misstep is a misjudged topless scene from Whittaker – it seems out of place given the build up – although one could argue that it’s her immaturity and her only logical way of appealing to a slightly comatose O’Toole after things go wrong. But to me, it feels intrusive, unnecessary and pointless titillation.

However, Venus is worth a look simply based on the tour de force performances of both leads Peter O’Toole and Jodie Whittaker.

*   *   *

As a reviewer, sometimes you just have a feeling before you enter a film that you’re not going to be wildly enamoured with it. Sadly I have to say, Evening was one such film – I tried to be as open minded as I could be as it had such a stellar cast – but I knew the minute the lights went down that it would be “chick flick in extremis.”

Evening is adapted from the best selling novel by Susan Minot and it’s been adapted by Pulitzer Prize winning author Michael Cunningham (Who wrote the Hours) – it’s a tale of lost love, stolen summers and a poignant drama, told from the death bed of Ann Grant (played by Vanessa Redgrave)

As she lies in her bed dying, connected up to drug drips, Ann recalls the time she met her true love. The anecdotes flash back to a younger Ann, played with wide eyed charm by Claire Danes and focus on her burgeoning relationship with a family friend called Harris (played by Patrick Wilson) which plays out during the wedding of her best friend Lila (Mamie Gummer, Meryl Streep’s daughter). The flashes into an idyllic romance (which ultimately goes nowhere) are interspersed by drug induced moments back in the present, where Ann’s two daughters – already living a strained relationship as sisters are wont to do – wonder how much they over hear from their mother is reality – and how much are the ramblings of a dying woman.

If there’s a word to describe this film – and it’s to damn it with faint praise – it is lovely. It’s a picturesque movie, beautifully shot, but romantic twaddle all the same, the kind of film mothers and daughters would watch together on a rainy Sunday afternoon over a bottle of wine. It would end, the two would turn to each other, embrace and declare their undying love – and apologise for any transgressions against each other during their lives. True to form, when the lights went up after the screening, some of the women I sat near to appeared to be reached for tissues (either that or there was some extremely localised rain)

I can’t fault any of the performances and Claire Danes and Vanessa Redgrave acquit themselves well as both incarnations of Ann Grant – but I actually can’t find anything truly original in the screenplay, the way the movie was shot or even how it panned out; it’s truly unoriginal and predictable fodder. I don’t believe I’ve missed the point of the film and I’m sure it would inspire many a girl’s afternoon out, echoing as it does Clint Eastwood’s Bridges of Madison County.

However, if it’s Sunday afternoon and it’s raining, my recommendation would be – seek out something else more challenging and stimulating than predictable emotional celluloid like this.