Movie

Mrs. Palfrey at the Claremont (2005) Movie Review

Mrs. Palfrey at the Claremont
9
(9/10)

Movie Review

About Mrs. Palfrey at the Claremont

Elizabeth Taylor writer of Mrs. Palfrey at the ClaremontMrs. Palfrey at the Claremont is 2005 comedy drama lasting 1h and 48 minutes. The plot summary describes it well without spoilers: “All but abandoned by her family in a London retirement hotel, an elderly woman strikes up a curious friendship with a young writer.” The film is poignant and touching and explores themes of aging, friendship, and the search for connection. Adapted from the novel by Elizabeth Taylor (not the actress, the other one, the writer ;)) and directed by Dan Ireland, this movie offers a sensitive portrayal of its characters and their experiences.

The story revolves around Mrs. Palfrey, a widowed elderly woman who moves into the Claremont to start a “new chapter in her life”, as an independent widow and maybe, to some extent, seeking some companionship and a sense of belonging. However, she finds herself lonely and isolated until a chance encounter with a young writer, Ludovic Meyer (played by Rupert Friend), leads to an unlikely friendship. The movie explores themes of age, ageing, loss, loneliness, friendship, unexpected connections and the multiple ways that selfless love and companionship manifest themselves beyond blood duties or marital contracts.  Beware, this article contains *************MAJOR SPOILERS************

A heartwarming story with a touch of fate

What follows is a heartwarming and sometimes bittersweet exploration of the bond that develops between Mrs. Palfrey and Ludovic, as they each find solace and understanding in the other’s company. Their relationship is beautifully portrayed, offering moments of humor, tenderness, and mutual support as they navigate the challenges of their respective lives. Sarah Palfrey felt isolated and disconnected from her family, and joins a hotel with other elderly where she feels no less connected. Neither blood nor age creates a connection and anyone watching the movie gets a sense that fate plays a more leading role in establishing her deepest relationships. Her husband was her one true love and at the end of her life, fate strikes again as she seeks a special connection, with the encounter of Ludovic Meyer. Later on, just as her favourite film “Brief Encounter” connected her soul to that of her then future husband, so, through her tale of it, does it cause the encounter of Ludovic and Gwendolyn, beyond even the recurring joke that they both have ridiculous names, which echoes the same one he had with Sarah.

There is a clear complicity and mutual understanding beyond words between the two main characters. Ludovic can tell that Mrs. Palfrey does not belong in the hotel from the first time he meets her there. He can tell that outside of her sensible demeanour, she is an adventuress, saying of how he sees her “I imagined you traveling the world, visiting exotic places”, not yet knowing that she had done so.

A figment of a writer’s imagination?

One of the film’s strengths lies in its nuanced portrayal of ageing and the universal human need for connection and companionship, regardless of age or circumstance. But the way the story is told, in spite of how real it might be, has the whiff of fiction. In many ways, the story feels like a fairy tale in that it seems to be happening more in someone’s mind than in reality. Mrs Palfrey mentions the fact that “isn’t it remarkable how people see what they want to see” when one of the pensioners, Mrs  Burton, notes that “good looks and charm runs in the family” about her perception of the resemblance between the adopted grandson Ludovic Meyer and Sarah Palfrey almost mimicking the way this real-looking story might just be fiction. Later on, Ludovic exclaims “Good Lord, we’re trapped in a Terence Rattigan play.” Even later, Mrs. Palfrey is faced with a penned version of herself and must decide if she recognises herself in it; she replies: “I don’t think accuracy should interfere with a good story”. Other little details also feel relevant to that theory. For example, the writer smokes only the once, the elderly lady swallows her medication the once, the young man’s faking to be her grandson lasts for the whole film and never is revealed to be otherwise, the way the film starts with his (Ludovic’s?) narration of what could only be the movie we are watching, the mention of Mrs Post’s (Thursdays) niece that never materialises, everyone’s names, the too stereotypical “exuberance” of the theatre people’s language, the excentricities of the elderly people, the unique and immediate bond between those two strangers (that has the whiff of a dreamed friendship), the fact that Ludovic is able to afford a single room at the hospital for Mrs. Palfrey, his shoes laughing in the imperfect tense (as the African tale would say) in just the one scene, never to be repeated or commented on.

But while many films adding once-introduced, never-again-mentioned elements feels chaotic and makes viewers lose the plot, this one has an enchanting way of integrating those moments that gives it an additional depth and causes the audience to ask themselves further questions. That, on its own, is a subtle touch of magic. Sarah Palfrey’s family is only introduced to add suspense as to whether or not their supercherie will be found out and as a striking difference between the growing cold, distant and uncaring relationship that her family has with her and her deepening bond with Ludovic. The latter reaches its climax when, waking up and finding him at her hospital bedside, the running joke about ridiculous names (including Mrs. Mrs. Arbuthnot) she thinks she is seeing her departed love, soulmate and husband, Arthur Paltrey. After all, Ludovic shares similar tastes to Arthur, such as William Blake being both their favourite poet. There is also that touch of foreshadowing that makes us believe that Ludovic knows more e.g., when he says “that must be wishful thinking from her part” about Mrs Arbuthnot’s “We are not allowed to die here”. These kinds of depth are the reason movies like these are watched more than once.

Casting in Mrs. Palfrey at the Claremont

Mrs. palfrey with Ludovic Meyer and girlfriend looking at Bewley castleThe casting in “Mrs. Palfrey at the Claremont” is exceptional, with Joan Plowright delivering a standout performance as Mrs. Palfrey, the titular character, imbuing the character with depth and warmth. Plowright brings depth and nuance to her portrayal of Mrs. Palfrey, capturing both her vulnerability and resilience. Rupert Friend shines as Ludovic Meyer, portraying the character with charm, sensitivity and authenticity. The supporting cast also delivers remarkable performances, contributing to the overall effectiveness of the film. This includes Anna Massey (Mrs. Arbuthnot), Zoe Tapper (Gwendolyn), and Robert Lang (absolutely brilliant), whose strong performances add depth and complexity to the ensemble. However, I must admit that at times, it was difficult to attribute the mannequin acting of some of the cast more to realistic British stiff upper lip than to just stiff acting, in particular the hotel manager as he welcomes Mrs. Palfrey for the first time.

The casting also falls short due to the misleading absence of diverse representation. While not a necessity for every film, given its London setting, the lack of reflection of the city’s diverse community is noticeable, which detracts from the authenticity of the narrative. A cursory look at London statistics reveals that “46% of Londoners are Black and Minority Ethnic”1 and notes that elderly care may exacerbate those numbers 234.

The attention to details

The film adds little touches that showcase its attention to details from the choice of roles performed by the cast to the choice of events and their sequencing. The old uniformed service attendant who welcomes Mrs. Palfrey somehow serves as a reflection of what she is to be expecting inside the Claremont: an establishment that is created for people her age but with which she cannot connect. The hotel workers are . The old people are leaving by proxy, between the movies they watch and the lives they imagine the new guests to have. Mrs. Palfrey continually rebels, with sensible tone, to being assimilated and seek to protect her independence, and making her choice of connection organically rather than by the obligations of proximity be it in location, age or blood family. Yes, she believes in fate, but more yet, a lifetime with her soulmate and her broken connection with her daughter and grandson hasve put her strictly under the charm of and faith in deeper connections. It is also the reason why she lets Ludovic go when he finds what looks to be his own (lifetime) companion.

The film also touches on the treatment of the elderly in some carehomes. The food is sub-standard and the lack of effort made to bring some life into the hotel is almost an admission of the belief that the old people are already dead so why try? The waitress and other services attendant, Violet (played by Emma Pike), is the only little bit of life in that environment but seems to be blending into the monotony of her surroundings, expecting routine and only lighting up when the young Ludovic turns up. Mrs. Palfrey’s grandson does not reply to her for weeks and turns up at his convenience, taking hers for granted. Her daughter visits her twice, once to check after her son has complained about his last visit and once when her mother is taken to hospital. The reasons they come to see Sarah show their sense of entitlement and thier lack of meaningful connection or care for her. Even the busiest people would call and none of them would tolerate taking the love ones for granted. In that way, Mrs. Palfrey is very much like the rest of the elderly in the hotel, left to complete the rest of their journey alone and preferably fast. While most of the elderly assimilate, Mrs. Palfrey reminds us that there is still life in that generation and it is a crime to deny the many opportunities that this bring to them and to the younger generation.

The generational gap inserts itself at times showing the sensible elderly woman and the energetic young man. “I’ve never enjoyed myself more… with my clothes on” is certainly not something that is proper but while she is a little taken aback then, their friendship confirms itself to be stronger than those little differences.

Direction and Landscape

Mrs. Palfrey at the ClaremontSet against the backdrop of London, in a genteel London retirement hotel, the film effectively captures the atmosphere of the city, particularly the quaint charm of the Claremont Hotel. The cinematography showcases the urban landscape, and particularly the bustling streets of London, providing a rich backdrop for the story to unfold and enhancing the mood and tone of the story. I must admit that some of the early camera angles were a little to close for my liking, making things look more documentary-like. The insistence, for example, in filming the shoed foot coming out of the cab would have had a lot more effect, had each differed more from the other and been more synonymous with their owner. That being said, Dan Ireland’s direction in “Mrs. Palfrey at the Claremont” is thoughtful and deliberate, allowing the story to unfold at a leisurely pace. The camera angles effectively capture the intimate moments between characters, creating a sense of intimacy and connection. Ireland’s direction enhances the emotional impact of the film, drawing viewers into the lives of its characters.

Verdict

While I noted some of the issues from the outset, the overall feeling about this movie is very positive. Overall, “Mrs. Palfrey at the Claremont” is a poignant and emotionally resonant film that will tug at the heartstrings of viewers of all ages. With its superb performances, thoughtful storytelling, and themes of friendship and resilience, it offers a compelling meditation on the beauty and complexity of the human experience. Whether the end is a beautified way for Ludovic to make Sarah Palfrey remembered when she would have likely not been (I never quite understand why Gwendolyn welcomes him, smiling, as he comes out of the hospital where his “Sasa” diedor why he leaves the book behind), the film has a subtle but remarkable way to get you to take things as they come and as Ludovic takes them. I was also struck by the fact that the title almost makes you expect a series, telling her tales at different key moments of her life.

However you look at this story, whether it is the beautiful and unlikely friendship of an elderly widow and a young male writer or the meeting and relay of soulmates, this story is gripping, captivating and beautiful, thanks to Elizabeth Taylor’s great writing, the good direction and the great cast. There are minor issues here and there, like some of the camera angles, the misleading depiction of a not so multicultural London and the fate angle was not as developed as I would have preferred, especially with the aspect about soulmates and the feeling of relay, but still this is a solid movie for all who are sensitive to simple depth. 9 out of 10.

Resources and further references

Mrs. Palfrey at the Claremont is streaming on Amazon Prime Video.

  1. https://trustforlondon.org.uk/data/geography-population/#:~:text=Ethnic%20diversity,by%20East%20London%20(50%25).
  2. https://www.skillsforcare.org.uk/adult-social-care-workforce-data-old/Workforce-intelligence/publications/regional-information/London/London.aspx
  3. https://www.statista.com/statistics/1084697/number-of-people-working-in-care-homes-in-the-united-kingdom/
  4. https://tfl.ams3.cdn.digitaloceanspaces.com/media/documents/The-vulnerability-of-paid-migrant-live-in-care-workers-in-London-to-modern-slavery.pdf