Maurice (Peter O'Toole) and Ian (Leslie Phillips) are old friends, veteran English actors who never hit the big time. Now in their seventies, they continue to work a little, but when Ian's grand-niece, Jessie (Jodie Whittaker) arrives to stay, their daily routine of comparing prescription medication changes. Jessie is a disappointment to Ian, but Maurice takes a shine to her and introduces her to some culture. The theatre, the art gallery... and even finds her a job as a nude life model. He becomes obsessed by her and tries to teach her about life.
Review by Louise Keller:
For me, Peter O'Toole will always be Lawrence of Arabia, that fearless, flamboyant adventurer from David Lean's 1962 epic. Even now, at age 74, O'Toole still makes us believe he is fearless, as he portrays an actor in his twilight years reflecting on life through his infatuation with a young girl. There is nothing sordid about the relationship. On the contrary, there is a beguiling innocence and beauty as O'Toole's Maurice falls in love with Jodie Whittaker's Jessie. Or perhaps, he falls in love with the idea. In any event, theirs is a unique special relationship that is meaningful to them both.
When Maurice first meets Jessie, she is wearing a sullen expression as she shovels microwave noodles from a cup into her mouth. He calls himself a scientist of the female heart, admitting to being 'a little bit' famous, as he takes her to the theatre, for walks and shopping. He quotes Shakespeare; she quotes Kylie. It is at the National Gallery that he introduces her to Valazquez's painting of the reclining nude Venus, goddess of love and desire, and starts calling her Venus. Maurice is idealistic when it comes to love, but realistic when it comes to sex. There is power play between the two, as Jessie allows Maurice to kiss her neck, but 'not to slobber'. Then she starts to want something in return.
The mood is melancholy and reminiscent, as Maurice enjoys the semblance of a relationship with his young ingénue. Jessie is suitably downmarket and unsophisticated with no manners and Whittaker embodies her effectively. But as Maurice treats her with respect, we begin to glimpse what he might see in her - or wishes to see. Director Roger Michell's poignant film touches on several relationships beyond that of the central May December encounter. There is the amusing banter between Maurice and his friend Ian (Leslie Philips), as they count their pills together, and the comfortable nostalgia between Maurice and his ex-wife, played with nuance by Vanessa Redgrave. They know each other only too well; there is genuine warmth and understanding between them.
Venus is a tender and poignant film and O'Toole carries it. 'He was gorgeous,' says one of his colleagues, looking at an old photo published in the paper. Touché
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CAST: Peter O'Toole, Leslie Phillips, Jodie Whittaker, Vanessa Redgrave
PRODUCER: Kevin Loader
DIRECTOR: Roger Michell
SCRIPT: Hanif Kureishi
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Haris Zambarloukos
EDITOR: Nicolas Gaster
MUSIC: David Arnold, Corinne Bailey Rae
PRODUCTION DESIGN: John Paul kelly
RUNNING TIME: 95 minutes
AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: Icon
AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: February 22, 2007