04 February 2013

My House in Umbria (starring Maggie Smith)

From time to time, Amazon recommends various films to me based on others I have rated. I can only assume that it suggested 'My House in Umbria' because I have liked other films featuring Dame Maggie Smith. It sounded like an interesting film so I put it on my wishlist, and was given it for Christmas.

Maggie Smith is, indeed, brilliant as the romantic novelist Emily Delahunty. It's only gradually that we learn that she has a very sordid past; I'm not sure that it really adds anything to the plot, other than to show the contrast with her current wealthy and altruistic lifestyle.

On her way to Rome by train, a terrorist bomb explodes, killing four passengers, injuring others - including Emily - and orphaning a child.

I assume this film, which was originally made for TV, is set in about the 1950s, based on the cars, old-fashioned record players and general props. It moves at that kind of pace, and is primarily a character-based story: As the survivors recover, Emily invites them - including the orphaned Aimee - to stay at her house in Umbria. There they all begin to find some measure of healing... at least, until Aimee's rather cold uncle arrives.

Gorgeous scenery, and wonderful acting by Dame Maggie, who must have been about 70 when this was made in 2003, but could easily pass for 60.  I was also very impressed with Ronnie Barker, playing an elderly general who lost his daughter in the explosion. It's a far cry from his usual humorous roles.  Emmy Clark as Aimee is a bit flat, but then her character is clearly suffering from what we would now call post-traumatic stress disorder.  She and Emily strike up an odd friendship, based perhaps on their mutual neediness.

There are one or two moments of humour amidst the slightly dark plot, and a wonderful inspector (Giancarlo Giannini) who is determined to get to the bottom of the explosion. I wasn't sure that I entirely understood the political ramifications, but it didn't much matter.

I suppose my only slight niggle is that Emily's character becomes rather strange towards the end, forcing confidences and drinking too heavily - something that seems unconnected to her earlier character. Still, the story flows well, and we found ourselves caught up entirely with the diverse people as they gradually blended into a little family.  The ending, if a little unlikely, is very satisfying -  we liked the film very much.

'My House in Umbria' is rated 12 in the UK, which seems about right to me, given the flashbacks of past abuse in Emily's life. I doubt if it would be of much interest to anyone under the age of about 14 or 15 anyway.

Definitely recommended.

Review copyright Sue's DVD Reviews

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