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Florence Foster Jenkins (2016)

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Florence Foster Jenkins was a socialite and philanthropist devoted to music. Late in life she decided the world was ready for her and recorded herself to soothe the boys in uniform fighting in WW2 and her song was such a radio hit she booked Carnegie Hall. (Because  it ain’t over till the flat lady sings.) She was a laughing stock and didn’t know it. What she heard … was not what the world heard. Husband St Clair Bayfield, a failed actor, protected her from the bad press but the final performance was a bit de trop … La Streep gives it her all as the lousy singer with a passion for potato salad and no inner critic, despite being a founder of New York’s Verdi Club and a close personal friend of Toscanini (John Kavanagh). The vocal coach (David Haig) who gets wind of her show ensures to be out of town and begs St Clair (Hugh Grant) not to credit him. The accompanist Cosme McMoon (Simon Helberg) is simply stunned by how awful Florence is but St Clair makes him an offer he can’t refuse and he joins her each day for training:he has ambitions to be a composer so she sings his song too. His reaction shots are priceless. Then, like St Clair, he realises Florence is a good person, they have a good life, and no harm is being done. We really see Florence from his perspective. We learn slowly that Florence contracted syphilis from her philandering first husband and this laugh out loud comedy attains a touch of poignancy and humanity as we see the effects of the illness contracted on her wedding night aged 18. Florence is cared for by her Irish housekeeper Kitty (Brid Brennan, reuniting with Streep 18 years after Dancing at Lughnasa). Florence’s relationship with St Clair is strictly platonic – he keeps a mistress, Kathleen  (Rebecca Ferguson) in the apartment Florence finances and we sympathise with her situation, even as Kathleen’s artsy-fartsy boho friends mock Florence. That’s good writing, by Nicholas Martin, and if this feels a tad long, it’s still good, under Stephen Frears’ direction. The story is really all about Bayfield and Grant is exceptional in the role. There’s been a stage show (Glorious! by Peter Quilter) and a French film (Marguerite) based on the same subject and despite being shot in the UK (mainly Liverpool), this looks pretty authentic to me. But golly I wanted a plate of potato salad after seeing it! Tasty.

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About elainelennon

An occasional movie-watching diary.

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