This is an intense, moving, ultimately hopeful film, and it’s a superb example of the bogs of anger and self-isolation that many older men get stuck in.
The film’s focus is an elderly couple, played to perfection by Vanessa Redgrave and Terence Stamp. One of the delights of this movie for us oldies is to see two great stars still in their prime as they themselves get well into old age.
Like me, you may remember vividly Terence Stamp as Sergeant Troy in Far From the Madding Crowd. Here, as Arthur, there’s a powerful mix of character, strength, and decay. Arthur has clearly spent most of his adult life in anger, resentment, and deep fear of opening up to others – even his son, convincingly played by Christopher Ecclestone.
One of the shocks of the film is to see how much Terence Stamp has aged: now he’s white-haired and balding. It’s useful for us oldies in the audience to turn this back on ourselves, and give ourselves loving, acceptance as we age.
Marion, played by Vanessa Redgrave, is Arthur’s wife: she loves him as he is, and makes his life work: for example, she’s the one who keeps the family talking to each other. As her health declines, we see one of the classic shipwrecks for older men: Arthur has depended on her social skills, and without them, he digs himself deeper into isolation and depression.
One of the few times we see Arthur cheerful is on his weekly night out at the pub with a few male friends. But he doesn’t know how to reach out to them, and vice versa. Arthur’s recovery from the shipwreck arises from unexpected sources, which I won’t reveal.
Some reviewers have disliked this film as sentimental: I believe that’s overlooking the real depth of the main characters and their interaction. Parts of the film are annoyingly flimsy, but they at least soften the gut-wrenching impact of the central drama. I’d urge you to see it, and don’t be ashamed to take a fresh handkerchief.