When Andrea, a handsome young Polish-Jewish violinist, is washed ashore in a close-knit Cornish community in 1936, spinster sisters Ursula and Janet Widdington (Judi Dench and Maggie Smith) take him under their wing and the stage is set for jealous rivalries, dark political paranoia and ultimately crushing heartbreak. There is nothing like a Dame? Try two of them - acting each other off the screen in Charles Dance's phenomenally acted, exquisitely scored, and ultimately moving Ladies In Lavender.
Given the cast and crew, this could have been the luvvie-fest to end them all; unbearably sentimental, hopelessly parochial and utterly self-indulgent. The fact that actor-turned-debut director Dance has produced a film of this calibre is nothing less than a minor modern miracle of British Cinema, not to mention a testament to the continued greatness of its leading Dames. Based on a short story by William J Lock (and "liberated" from a Budapest set-dressing room by an entranced Dance), the film conjures up a by-gone age and its residents so perfectly you find yourself rooting for the most unlikely of characters, their relationships and their all-too-human foibles throughout.
"NOTHING LESS THAN A MINOR MODERN MIRACLE OF BRITISH CINEMA"
It’s an unusual kind of love story, and one that acknowledges love is as cruel and horribly unfair as it is kind and selfless. As the lovesick Ursula, Dench is a marvel as the living embodiment of the Yeats' line, 'tread softly, because you tread on her dreams'. Smith meanwhile - as laconic and bitter-sweet as ever (this actress seems to speak entirely in italics) - provides her perfect foil, as their protégé (Brühl) slips further away.
The closing shot, in which Ursula finally relinquishes her love for Andrea through the transcendent power of his music is actually worth the admission price alone. Ladies In Lavender holds you in a gentle but compelling grip till the finish.