'Mrs. Palfrey at the Claremont'

The leisurely pace, Hallmark Channel plotting, and largely septuagenarian ensemble cast of Dan Ireland's Mrs. Palfrey at the Claremont seem tailor-made for the Paris Theatre, but this earnest, well-observed weepy has more depth than its genteel trappings might imply. Adapted from a book by the late English novelist Elizabeth Taylor (not the matrimonially inclined movie star), Mrs. Palfrey chronicles the final phase of life for its titular character (Joan Plowright, frail but forceful). A recent widow, she installs herself in the Claremont Hotel—a drab backstreet London pension, nicely served by the film's minuscule budget—and eventually bonds with its other permanent residents. A sidewalk tumble deposits her in the care of awkward twentysomething writer Ludovic (the aptly goofy Rupert Friend), and the two embark on a predictably enriching friendship. Despite the setup, Ireland's film evades Harold and Maude–lite pathos by quietly underscoring the harsh realities of Mrs. Palfrey's late-in-life independence, from pervasive loneliness to forced idleness to diminished health. Pain and loss haunt even the pluckiest of the Claremont's tenants, and the director and his cast (including the great Anna Massey) approach the material—a syrupy epilogue notwithstanding—with humor and grace.

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