A young Jewish castaway is washed up in Cornwall in 1936 and taken in by two well-heeled, gently ageing sisters: Janet (Smith), who lost her husband in WW1, and Ursula (Dench), a confirmed spinster. The two become fond of the youth, teaching him English and clearly appreciating the male company. (In fact, it is Ursula’s rather too keen appreciation of his company which provides the film’s only interesting theme.)
It quickly becomes obvious that the youth, Andrea, is a very talented young chap. Thence a curious dilemma develops between the sisters: should the youth be permitted to leave to pursue his career, or kept and looked after like an exotic pet? Fortunately for all parties, Andrea eventually takes this decision out of the hands of his guardians. There is much sadness in the sisters’ household, but everyone has had an interesting time, and can keep their memories of a rather unusual summer. And that’s it.
Yes, really, that’s it. There’s a frisson of love interest between Andrea and a German (Natascha McElhone, whose face is always familiar, perhaps because she was in Bergerac), some country dancing, Miriam Margolyes and Clive Russell in cameos as local yokel caricatures, and some beautiful behind-the-scenes playing by US virtuoso Joshua Bell (which Bruhl does a very respectable job of miming). There is also some excellent acting from Dench and Smith (particularly the lovelorn Dench), and whilst it is mainly their interaction that holds our interest, they cannot carry the film alone. Poor Andrea is pitifully one-dimensional to the extent that, if we are interested in him at all, we consider him shallow and a bit of a bitch; the German is fiery, and obviously has some interesting secrets, but we never learn them. And there’s a doctor who also fancies the German. All in all, no wonder it seems like an episode of a television drama; the whole thing is made as if we’d find out more next time. And the ending is so abrupt that it’s as if Mr Dance had forgotten that there wouldn’t be a next time. If this were a true story, these features might have been forgiveable, as they might have resulted from restrictions placed on depictions of characters still living. But this isn’t a true story.
Hopefully, Charles Dance will improve his directing with practice. Unfortunately, I suspect he should consider returning to his acting career. Or perhaps this is in fact a wonderfully touching sentimental film for the over-70s market (the pace was slow enough for me to actually bear this in mind as a consideration), and I have therefore misjudged it horribly. I wouldn’t recommend that you try to find out for yourself – life’s too short.