Friday, 17 March 2017

The Time of Their Lives

There’s gentle humour and warmth at the heart of this antiques roadshow…

Written by Jason Solomons

Dame Joan Collins breaks out of the retirement home in search of one last shot at stardom in twinkly British pensioner caper The Time of Their Lives.

Dame Joan isn’t playing herself, though she might as well be, cast as a former 1960s starlet called Helen Shelley, who fell on hard times – and hard drink – but who, through layers of lipstick, clings to her former glamour even while boarding a coach for the OAP home’s annual trip to the seaside.

Escape is on Helen’s ever-dramatic mind. She wants to sneak off to France to the funeral of an old director friend because ‘le tout Hollywood’ will be there and she reckons she can still wangle herself a final film job. Film-Jul17-JasonSolomons-176

Getting caught up in Helen’s delusion is Priscilla, played by Pauline Collins, the British film world’s go-to frustrated housewife. We see her mourning a long-dead son, much to the annoyance of her grumpy husband (Ronald Pickup, whose career did pick up after The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel films, although he’s still rather a miserable git to watch).

Through some badly contrived mishap, Priscilla ends up on the coach with Helen, whom she recognises and then reveals to that she’s a big fan, which self-satisfies Helen no end. The pair make a flit to France, all of which involves a ferry, jokes about driving on the wrong side of the road, and a life-saving moment that turns them into celebrities in the French media.

Somehow, our Thelma & Louise-style pair steal a car but end up bickering on a country lane, where they are saved by a knight in a 2CV, who takes them to his modernist-adapted chateau. Sacré bleu, it’s Franco Nero, who, frankly, has had more work done than said chateau.

He plays Italian artist Alberto Tosetti, fabulously wealthy but lonely, and under the strict administration of a bossy nurse. Nevertheless, he entertains the ladies, taking a shine to homely Priscilla, much to Helen’s irritation.

There’s time for some badly over-played marijuana smoking, a skinny dip, and a few home truths before they all set off for the beautiful Ile de Ré and the funeral of, so it transpires, Helen’s director on her first hit, a stylish 1960s romp called Morty and Me (Sophie Ellis-Bextor sings the Sir Tim rice-penned theme tune to this fake hit over the end credits, and you really must stay for the lyrics).

Look, this film, written and directed by Roger Goldby, is pretty ropey, occasionally not much better than a Last of the Summer Wine special. However, powered by the sheer determination of its stars, it retains charm and potent emotions.

Although the two Collins never quite zing off each other as they should, Dame Joan is really something when given room. She does a boozy, brassy, yet brittle rendition of an Anthony Newley song, a scene that ranks alongside some of the best work she’s ever delivered on screen, and the shots of her scraping off make-up and defiantly deconstructing her wig are equally powerful, proper grande dame material.

Meanwhile, Pauline still has a wonderful softness in those eyes that makes her eventual triumph of self-determination something to cheer, just as it was all those years ago in Shirley Valentine.

With the dappled French locations, the presence of Joely Richardson (Nero’s real-life stepdaughter), and two great British actresses seizing a couple of juicy and all-too-rare parts, there is gentle humour and a wistfulness here, with moments of genuine heart that pierce through any shoddiness – even if a pacemaker might have helped it beat a little faster.

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