My House In Umbria

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Movie Review by Neil Hesse

Starring: Maggie Smith, Ronnie Barker, Chris Cooper, Timothy Spall, Benno Furmann

Director: Richard Loncraine

Sometimes it takes a catastrophe to allow for something beautiful to happen.

Ms Delahunty (Maggie Smith) embarks on a train journey and she happens to sit in a cabin with a young German couple, an American husband, wife and young daughter, and an elderly English gentleman, his daughter and her husband. Shortly after the train takes off an explosion rips apart the very cabin in which she is riding. She along with the old gentleman (Ronnie Barker), young girl and the young German man turn out to be the only survivors. Out of compassion she invites them all back to her villa in Umbria to recuperate. As the days go by they all find themselves becoming very close to one another, almost as though they had become a family with extra attention given to the young girl, Emily, who lost both her mother and father. A local policeman (Giancarlo Giannini) comes to question Ms Delahunty for any details she may remember about the explosion, as the police are suspicious as to why only their cabin was blown apart.

Emily’s uncle (Chris Cooper) arrives from America to take her back to live with him. Ms Delahunty who happens to be an author of several romantic novels begins to visualize each visitor’s personal thoughts and existence with her apparently very active imagination. All these visualizations lead her to many conclusions and dreams that she believes to be true and may indeed be just that. She begins to openly flirt with Emily’s uncle much to his annoyance and as she begins to understand what kind of man he is she begs him to leave the girl there with her as she feels that he and his childless wife would not be able to cope with the burdens of raising a child.

As the investigation continues into the bomb on the train the inspector returns to question one of the survivors upon which Ms Delahunty reveals the details of her surprisingly accurate dreams. Now all Ms Delahunty can do is watch as Emily, such a sweet little girl that she and her household have grown so close to, drives off to be with a couple who do not seem to want nor care much for children and hope that maybe just maybe everything will turn out right after all.

Richard Loncraine directs this drama with a steady drive as he highlights the bonds formed between survivors of a horrible incident and also the exploration of his central character, who despite so much tragedy in her own life still has so much compassion for others. The beauty of the Italian landscape adds to the pleasant feel of this charming little film.

Dame Maggie Smith gives a BAFTA worthy performance here. In spite of her character’s tragic past, she is flirty, compassionate and enjoys one too many drinks at any time of the day. Yet she still comes across as loveable and Maggie Smith portrays all this perfectly, the humour and the sadness are both handled very well.

With strong performances from her supporting cast this film turns a very simple tale into a pleasant experience but it still feels as though it was tailor made for the small screen.

Nonetheless it is a good, light drama.

3 out of 6 stars