Maggie Smith stars in My Old Lady, a complex, dark and compelling film about family secrets
Dame Maggie Smith may be 79 years old but she’s showing no signs of slowing down. Between her role as Violet Crawley in Downton Abbey and three new film releases including The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel (2015), the English actress is on top form at the moment. Her latest film My Old Lady is due to hit UK cinemas this week with Maggie Smith, Kevin Kline and Kirstin Scott Thomas in the starring roles.
Written and directed by Israel Horovitz (Weeks After Paradise) My Old Lady tells the story of Mathias, a down-and-out 57 year old New Yorker who has nothing to show for life apart from three failed marriages and a box full of French books. The film starts with Mathias arriving in France to sell the Parisian apartment he has inherited from his estranged father. But the sale isn’t that simple. His father bought the apartment from the 94-year-old Mathilde Girard (Maggie Smith) under a viager – an ancient French real estate system with complex rules about its resale. Mathilde is legally entitled to live in the apartment (supported by Mathias) until the day she dies. And, judging by the old woman’s vitality, that day isn’t coming any time soon.
With no place to go, Mathias is forced to stay with Mathilde and her daughter Chloé, instantly clashing with the pair over his dealings with a property developer who wants to buy the apartment. It isn’t long however before the trio release they are connected in some unexpected ways, as Mathilde unveils a complex labyrinth of secrets that both devastates and unites the trio.
Whilst the film is described as a comedy-drama, there are some deep and dark themes at play in My Old Lady with alcoholism, love, adultery, suicide and even incest all covered over the 90 minute production. There are some witty moments however with Kevin Kline and Maggie Smith carrying the film capably whenever they’re together onscreen.
Kevin Kline is strong as Mathias, bringing Horovitz’s complex lead character to life. Between his failed career as a writer, his history with alcoholism, his estranged relationship with his father and his mother’s tragic death, the guy just can’t seem to catch a break.
Kirstin Scott Thomas gives a fine performance as Chloé, Mathilde’s brittle daughter. Her scenes with Mathias are strong and intense, particularly when the pair discover a common ground of childhood pain and neglect. I did feel, however, that her character could have been explored further, with many of Chloé’s personal struggles left unresolved at the end of the film.
But the film undoubtedly belongs to Maggie Smith who is excellent as the feisty Mathilde, playing the vigorous and strong-willed Englishwoman with class and restraint.
The film’s ending is a little disappointing, with Horovitz wrapping up the story in a way that seems a little too neat and tidy considering the complexity of the characters. This aside, My Old Lady is worth a watch if just for the cinematography alone. The Parisian locations used in the film are simply stunning with the moody jazz and operatic soundtrack adding to its appeal.
Complex, dark and compelling, My Old Lady isn’t your average comedy-drama but if you’re looking for something deep, dark and a little different, then this is the film for you.
My Old Lady is on general release in the UK on 21 November 2014.