7 June 2004 | Hedgehog_Carnival
Michell redeems himself
It's hard to imagine a director capable of such godawful crap as 'Notting Hill' pulling off something as sensitive and as attractive as this, but well, here's the evidence and it's quite compelling. Several have alluded to TV drama, and yes, this does have a seventies Play for Today feel at times, but is always a cut above, mainly I think owing to some quite superlative acting from Anne Reid and to a fine script which shadow-boxes with cliché without ever getting one on the nose, except maybe right at the end. (I didn't like either the tracking shot of indifferent goodbyes through the hallway, nor the oh-what-a-beautiful-morning final scene: she deserved a more studied finale than that I think, after all that hard work. The slippers business was a bit OTT too, on reflection).
What I mean about avoiding cliché: well, I for one had a sinking expectation that the "mature" man May's daughter tries to set her up with would be cast in 2 dimensions as a repulsive old bore, so as to point the contrast more painfully with the attractive, virile young geezer he is unwittingly competing with. Instead, we get an unexpectedly subtle and sympathetic cameo of a lonely, clumsy, not entirely unlikeable and very human fellow, who nevertheless doesn't have much of a clue about entertaining a woman. It was around that point I started to sit up and pay more attention. Here was a script that let the actors breathe and do something interesting with fairly minor parts. Almost Mike Leigh in that respect (minus the contrived catharses that the latter inexplicably goes in for).
And of course I was, as everyone probably was, dumbfounded by what Anne Reid does with her character and with her body. She's /not/ "the repressed, dutiful housewife discovering herself for the first time", this is far too simplistic for the character we have. Again and again there are allusions to her having been a "bad housewife", not to mention that thing she does with trays, trying to look nurturing and comely and only succeeding in looking awkward. The daughter accuses her of having "sat in front of the TV all day" instead of, well, whatever her motherly duties might be presumed to have been: she has no answer. She never was a model wife and mother, at least not to herself - that's where a lot of the poignancy comes from, the sense of someone having wasted a life trying to fulfil a role she simply wasn't good at, ever.