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Mrs. Palfrey at the Claremont Reviews

An unusual friendship between an elderly English widow and a 26-year-old writer lies at the heart of this touching adaptation of novelist Elizabeth Taylor's 1971 book. Determined to live a life of relative independence after years of happy marriage, Mrs. Sarah Palfrey (Joan Plowright) moves to London. Rather than live with her daughter, Elizabeth (Anna Cartaret), or grown grandson, Desmond (Lorcan O'Toole), Mrs. Palfrey reserves a monthly room at the Claremont Hotel, Lancaster Gate. Whatever Mrs. Palfrey expected, the Claremont probably isn't it: Her room is barely large enough to accommodate a double bed together with her luggage, and while she's told that dinner, which is served promptly at 7, is marginally better on Sundays, it couldn't get any worse. Worst of all, her new neighbors seem to be just the kind of lonely widows and ossified widowers whom Mrs. Palfrey had hoped to avoid with this little adventure. Not even an offer to join the refreshingly tart Mrs. Arbuthnot (Anna Massey) for Sex and the City is enough to keep her own loneliness at bay. Her calls to Desmond go unreturned and Elizabeth has yet to visit, but when Mrs. Palfrey takes a tumble outside the basement flat of handsome writer Ludovic Meyer (Rupert Friend), who supports himself by busking in the London tube, she finds comfort and friendship where she least expected it. They share an abiding love for the Romantic poets, and unlike "Ludo"'s mother (Clare Higgins), Mrs. Palfrey seems genuinely impressed by his talent; Ludo, in turn, sees a great story in the details of Mrs. Palfrey's life. When Mrs. Palfrey announces that a young man will be joining her for dinner on Saturday night, the Claremont's nosy residents assume they'll finally meet the "mythical" Desmond, and after failing to correct them, she asks Ludo if he wouldn't mind impersonating her grandson for the evening. Ludo readily agrees and makes a tremendous impression — until the real Desmond finally drops in. What sounds like a dreary visit to an old-folks home — the sight of the hotel's guests arranged around the Claremont dining room prompts Ludo to exclaim, "Good lord, we're trapped in a Terence Rattigan play!" — but that hotel happens to be packed with some of Britain's finest character actresses. Directed with charming restraint by the acclaimed American producer Dan Ireland, however, the film is a quiet triumph for Dame Joan, who portrays Mrs. Palfrey's late-life journey into independence with a heart-tugging simplicity that can only come from a lifetime of great work.