An absolutely riveting (Oscar-nominated) performance by Dame Edith Evans lifts this downbeat story about old age into the ether reserved for UMBERTO D and a few other films with the same subject. Working from the 1961 novel Mrs. Ross, director-screenwriter Forbes fashioned what he hoped
would be an important film. It was, but not as much as expected. Evans lives alone in a dark, dank flat. She has companions, though. She hears voices whispering to her through the walls, the pipes, the air. Married for years to Portman, who left her sometime before, she exists on the government
dole although she'll never admit it. She prefers to think that the queen is just lending her a few bob to help her until the inheritance from her father is finally distributed. It's all in her imagination, of course, as there is no money forthcoming. By day, she walks the streets, stopping by a
soup kitchen for some sustenance, the local library for some warmth, and the national assistance office for her small stipend. Fraser is Evans and Portman's son, a chip off the old man's block in that he is a thief and a rascal. He's just pulled a job and stashes the booty in Evans' closet. When
she finds it, her addled mind tells her that here, at last, is her father's gift to her. She races off to the government office to tell them that they need not "lend" her any more from this day forward. She makes the mistake of telling Bunnage, an avaricious neighbor, about her good luck after all
these years. Bunnage asks Evans to stop by for some celebratory tea or sherry, and once Evans gets there, she is drugged into a stupor, robbed, and tossed in a nearby alley. She is found by neighbor Newman (Mrs. Bryan Forbes) the next day as she coughs and hacks with the beginnings of pneumonia.
She enters a local hospital where she recovers her health while being tested psychologically. The authorities attempt to find Portman; when they do, they prevail on the scoundrel to come back to his wife. There is a pathetic scene as the couple attempts to rebuild what may have once been, but
Portman reverts to type, takes the money that was stolen by their son, and disappears, leaving Evans to sit alone in the cramped, newspaper-strewn flat as she listens to the whisperings and says, "Are you there?" This movie could make the toughest critic sob--it goes right for the tear ducts and
doesn't stop jerking. Made on a very low budget, it was one of the few films made by Evans, who started in sound films in 1948 in THE QUEEN OF SPADES after having made a few appearances in the silent era. The location is Manchester, which is depressing enough. Add that to the problem of an aged
woman flirting with insanity, then make it totally uncompromising and you can see why it wasn't a commercial success. To be old is bad enough. To be poor is terrible. To be old and poor is something that almost everyone has thought of and feared. In this movie, that condition is brutally depicted
and makes one shudder, "There, but for the grace of God, go I." Perhaps Evans might have found happiness if she'd met Carlo Battista (UMBERTO D), but that's another story. Evans died in 1976 at age 88, and her final films, NASTY HABITS and THE SLIPPER AND THE ROSE, had not yet been released. If
she is to be remembered for anything, it must be for this searing portrait of an old woman struggling to stand tall in the face of massive ill fortune. Although there is no violence and no raw language, sensitive children will be moved to uncontrollable tears.
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- Rating: NR
- Review: An absolutely riveting (Oscar-nominated) performance by Dame Edith Evans lifts this downbeat story about old age into the ether reserved for UMBERTO D and a few other films with the same subject. Working from the 1961 novel Mrs. Ross, director-screenwriter… (more)