Movie Review: Mrs. Palfrey at the Claremont (2005)

An amazing experience that evokes all the love of life well lived

PalfreyAnd for sure I’ll be checking out Brief Encounter, referenced there, to refresh my memory again of that classic love story. This quiet, small film is a gem one must not miss. In its short 108 minutes are contained the most deeply moving sensibilities available to the human spirit: loneliness, disappointments, irony, humor, friendship, love, and a kindness to strangers that blossoms into a many-splendored bouquet of mutual perception of the highest order. All from the simplest elements imaginable.

It’s about as mundane a plot as can be conceived: an elderly widow moves to London to live in a hotel (the Claremont), paying month to month, to be near her grandson—the mother, Mrs. Palfrey’s daughter, lives away in Scotland. The hope is that said grandson, at the very least, will be glad to know she’s arrived and perhaps pay her a visit or phone her from time to time. Also, she seeks more availability of community and people to know.

Mrs. Palfrey, exquisitely portrayed by Joan Plowright, soon gets to know her handful of fellow hotel residents and settles in to a routine not quite what she had hoped for. Until one day, while she’s out to mail a letter to her daughter and pick up a book for one of her new friends at the hotel, she suffers a minor accident. She’s tended to by a hopeful writer/ house-sitter, Lugo (Rupert Friend)—the young man reminds me of the Edward Albert character in Butterflies are Free. He’s the same age as her grandson… who hasn’t called in weeks; Lugo and Mrs. Palfrey become friends. I’ll let the reader work out some plot opportunities with that.

Mrs. Palfrey at the Claremont is one of those films in which you cannot imagine anyone else playing the lead role. Plowright is an actress most moviegoers have seen once or twice, but she’s immediately familiar. She conveys a wise, curious presence in an older woman’s body, with plenty of mild amusement at the vagaries of agine among other lonely hearts. She has a precise, sort of lilting English expression that is also lyrical and economical; the friendship she forms with Lugo, then by connection with others in his life, borders on the mystical and magical. The stuff that poetry is made of.

Both Mrs. Palfrey and Lugo are lovers of Wordsworth.

My eagerness to rewatch and to own this movie reminds me of how I came to love The Waltons. You can’t imagine that a story about such mundane matters as family living can possibly be entertaining or, more pertinent, moving. Then at the end of show after show you find yourself patting away tears of, well, joy and release. You’re in for a treat with Mrs.Palfrey.

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