My House In Umbria


Reviewed by: Emma Slawinski

In this genre-straddling movie - part murder mystery, part gentle comedy/drama - Maggie Smith's talents are put to slightly better use than in her recent outing with Ladies In Lavender. She plays Emily Delahunty, an aging woman sitting on the fortune she's amassed writing trashy romance novels. In her stunning Umbrian villa, she's trying to recreate a belle epoque, so that from the opening credits you'd be forgiven for thinking this is a period piece set in the Thirties.

The plot, however, is decidedly contemporary. On a pleasure trip from Umbria to Milan, a terrorist bomb goes off in Emily's train carriage. Having partially recovered from her injuries in hospital, she gathers together the grieving survivors of the explosion and takes them back to the villa for a little convalescence. There's a German journalist, whose girlfriend died in the accident, and Ronnie Barker, playing the endearing general, an elderly ex-British army man who lost his daughter, and Aimee, a young American girl, deeply traumatised by the loss of her mother, who refuses to speak and paints dark, alarming pictures, which she denies are hers.

Emily's remedy for bereavement, consisting of Umbrian sun, lavish Tuscan home cooking and a regular cocktail hour, is working wonders on the patients. However, the authorities have contacted Aimee's uncle and when he arrives at the villa to collect her, he disrupts the fragile Utopia.

There are good performances here, with Smith giving her all as the exuberant Emily, who lives somewhere between the present, her traumatic past and a fantasy world something like her novels, with a bit of clairvoyance thrown in for good measure. Her ongoing narrative commentary starts to wear a bit thin after a while, however.

Chris Cooper (American Beauty) is in familiar territory, playing Aimee's repressed and terminally unimaginative uncle, and the clashes between the two are good fun, as bon-vivant Emily tries to soften his stern countenance alternately with bourbon, cod philosophy and romantic advances. Giancarlo Giannini's kindly police inspector is convincing too, although the character is lost in the over-stretched plot that is the film's downfall.

Feelgood and inoffensive, this not a film to break box-office records.

Reviewed on: 26 Nov 2004
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Victims of a terrorist train crash come to terms with tragedy in a sun-drenched Umbrian villa.
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Director: Richard Loncraine

Writer: Hugh Whitemore, based on the novella by William Trevor

Starring: Maggie Smith, Chris Cooper, Ronnie Barker, Timothy Spall, Benno Furmann, Giancarlo Giannini, Libero De Rienzo, Emmy Clark.

Year: 2003

Runtime: 103 minutes

BBFC: 12A - Adult Supervision

Country: UK/Italy


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