2007-07-05 09:43
What it’s about:

Maurice (Peter O’Toole) and Ian (Leslie Phillips) are a pair of geriatric actors who spend their days bickering about their past glories, mixing up their medication, and scrounging for roles as corpses and senile grandfathers. But when Ian’s wilful grandniece Jessie (Jodie Whittaker) arrives to “take care of him,” Maurice is completely taken with her. Despite the six decades between them, an unlikely relationship develops as Ian teaches Jessie about life and culture, and Jessie reminds Ian of what it was like to be young.

What we thought of it:

Making a movie about growing old is always a risky business. It’s easy to slip into either broad farce or sentimentality, unconsciously neutralising this most uncomfortable of subjects. It takes a team like director Roger Michell and writer Hanif Kureishi to not only confront the topic of age head-on, but to add an even more uncomfortable aspect to the mix – sexual desire.

Michell, who is perhaps best known for Notting Hill, is no stranger to such stories. His last film with Kureishi, The Mother, explored a passionate love affair between a much younger man and a much older women. But, as tempting as comparisons are, Venus is a very different film. Where his earlier film is all physical passion and desperation, Kureishi’s latest film is a bittersweet love story, more about unrequited desires than any physical consummation.

It’s tempting to pigeonhole Venus as the story of a dirty old man, and that is certainly one way to read the film. But even the most prudish viewers will be hard put to resist the charm and compassion of Peter O’Toole’s performance. As his Maurice gazes at the crass, coltish Jessie, a half a dozen different emotions flit across his face – desire, affection, confusion, grandfatherly protectiveness – all of them jostling for position. It is easily his best performance for over a decade.

But O’Toole’s brilliance would have been lost without a decent foil, provided here by Jodie Whittaker, whose consummate timing and tangible vulnerability belie the fact that this is her first film. She matches O’Toole beat for beat, never once seeming out of her depth. She even outshines the rest of the brilliant veteran cast – geniuses like Leslie Phillips, Vanessa Redgrave and Richard Griffiths – though to be fair their parts are much smaller and written more for comic relief than dramatic significance.

Yet, as with all of Kureishi’s work, there is more to Venus than a love story, however unconventional. The gentle, teasing scenes between Maurice and Ian as they totter around feebly, arguing constantly and occasionally spouting Shakespeare, are among the most tender and hilarious in the film. For once you get the feeling that a film is laughing with old men and not at them.

For all its humour, Venus isn’t light entertainment. There’s a tragic aspect to both the humour and the romance - a disquieting proximity to the indignity of old age and the spectre of mortality. But it’s also one of the most heartbreakingly honest and poignant films of the decade.

- Alistair Fairweather
This bitter-sweet comedy is a small piece of cinematic genius - funny, insightful, complex and tragic. Only Peter O'Toole could turn a story about a dirty old man into such a rare gem.

Pierre du Preez 2007/06/16 2:21 PM
Venus I liked the fact that there is no attempt by the director to glorify or pass judgment on the characters portrayed in his film -- they are who they are and we are expected to accept them as such. Relevant moral issues are raised and viewers will obviously be left with serious questions about these matters that remain unanswered. However, are these not the hallmark of any good movie? An honest attempt at representing the emotions of an elderly man who has to face the reality of death while wanting to cling to life -- not wanting "to go quietly into that dark night".
There are new stories on the homepage. Click here to see them.