Movie Review by Willard Manus
Hanif Kureishi is a remarkable writer. The author of numerous novels, plays, short stories and screenplays--think My Beautiful Laundrette and Sammy and Rosie Get Laid--he writes in a provocative, challenging way that most people find to their liking.
Now Kureishi has written a new screenplay, VENUS, which director Roger Mitchell, with the help of some of Britain's finest actors, has turned into a small but warm and touching movie.
Kureishi's character-driven story centers on two aging actors, Maurice (Peter O'Toole) and Ian (Leslie Phillips), who are living out their last days in a scruffy flat in Kentish Town, a downscale London suburb. Although neither was a major star, they were professionals who achieved a measure of respect and success; they still get the odd day or two of movie or tv work. Into their staid, ordered, slightly sad lives comes a young girl, Jessie (played by the dynamic newcomer, Jodie Whittaker).
Ian's grand-niece, Jessie is tough, working-class and provincial, but also beautiful and desirable. Her crude manners put Ian off, but Maurice, whose love of pleasure and sex have cost him his marriage to Valerie (Vanessa Redgrave), is smitten by her and persaudes Ian to allow her to crash with them.
What follows is essentially a May-September love story. Although Maurice has been rendered impotent by a prostate operation, he still courts Jessie, introducing her to the theatre, fine wine and food, clothes and jewelry. Jessie begins to change; the big chip on her shoulder is splintered, but before it breaks in two she hurts Maurice wilfully, not only betraying him with a younger man but attacking him physically.
VENUS becomes a story of acceptance and forgiveness, with both characters learning important things about each other and themselves. The humanity of the film shines through, thanks to the superb acting and directing. Director of photography Haris Zambarloukos deserves a lot of credit, too, for his expert work.
VENUS does not have the raw, cutting edge of Kureishi's previous work. He's gone much softer, more mainstream this time around, but that doesn't mean VENUS can't be recommended and enjoyed.