Thursday, 21 November 2019

My House in Umbria

With a strong ensemble cast this gentle tale set in the rolling Umbrian hills is a pleasant way to spend an hour and a half. What saves it from mediocrity are the performances of Maggie Smith as Emily Delahunty and Timothy Spall as hew 'manager' Quinty. Ronnie Barker plays a retired General whom I expected to break out into a stammer for comic effect at any moment.

I think you can watch this film on two levels. The easier, surface viewing, is to see a troubled older lady with an upbringing and early life filled with abuse finally attain her 'family' in the idyll of rural  Umbria. Perhaps another way of viewing the film is to see the plot and dialogue as that of a unremarkable writer of romantic fiction which ultimately leaves a number of plot threads unresolved, thus inviting the viewer to construct their own conclusions and interpretation of how the narrative arc is resolved.

Either way, the plot is too fanciful, the premise of how Mrs Delahunty came to be in Umbria too bizarre to be believable and the utopian existence she enjoys too perfect for someone with such deep-seated psychological needs. The fact that all of these dissonant points find reconciliation on the pages of her trashy novels does not, for this viewer, redeem them. The realism comes from her heavy consumption of gin!

Having said all of this there are many things within this film to commend it. It is a film about guilt, loss, regret, hope and love. These emotions are played out and explored with empathy and the performances contain tangible pathos. I would imagine few people who watch this film who would be unable to develop a strong attachment to, or repulsion from, all of the main characters. Perhaps one of Delahunty's more memorable lines is "I was the only one who had not lost a loved one, having none to lose."

This feels like the made-for-TV movie it is. Nevertheless, it is a worthwhile and entertaining watch that will leave you considering the possibilities and trying to disentangle reality from fiction. I'll give it 6/10.

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