Monday, February 27, 2006

Stephanie Zacherek's Overlooked Performances list

Salon's Stephanie Zacharek has a terrific piece about the performances that should have been nominated for Oscars. I was especially happy to see her mention Joan Plowright's wonderful performance in "Mrs. Palfrey at the Claremont." Since she makes a full disclosure, I will, too. The wonderfully sensitive script was written by my friend Ruth Caplin. Here's what Zacharek has to say about Plowright:

Let's end with one performance that relatively few people caught in theaters; this is one that will have to be savored on DVD. Judi Dench is a marvelous actress, and in the performance she gives in "Mrs. Henderson Presents" she is, at least, serviceably enjoyable. But in a more perfect world, the actress the voting members of the Academy would have noticed is Joan Plowright, in a small, sweet picture called "Mrs. Palfrey at the Claremont." (It was directed by Dan Ireland who -- full disclosure -- is a friend of mine.) Plowright plays an aging widow of modest means who moves into a humbly appointed London hotel, where she finds a small community of new friends who are around her own age. But she also happens to meet a much younger man, a somewhat aimless aspiring writer (played by the impossibly charming newcomer Rupert Friend, who also played Wickham in "Pride & Prejudice"), with whom she finds a kinship that renders their age difference inconsequential.

Plowright isn't particularly well known to American movie audiences except as an "older" actress; her long and varied career in the English theater is a life apart from the Plowright most of us know. But Plowright intuitively understands the difference between playing a character and playing an age. How many of us have heard older friends and relatives lament that even though they feel 20 inside, their bodies are giving out around them, betraying the people they really are, and really want to be? Plowright opens that world of feeling to us in this compact, resolutely unsentimental performance. We may not know much about what the young actress Plowright was like onstage, and yet somehow, she's right here before us, in Mrs. Palfrey, particularly in the look of mischievous willfulness that flashes across her face now and then. Even her tentative, careful steps betray traces of youthful vitality.

I suppose we should be grateful that the Academy is willing, at least in the nomination process, to pay some attention to actresses over 65. It's just too bad that this time it couldn't be Plowright. She's had a longer career than most American moviegoers are aware of. Maybe it takes that many years to know how to play, to any convincing degree, the feeling of being 20.

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