Sunday, 11 January 2015

'Memento Mori' at the BFI/National Film Theatre

The current National Film Theatre Maggie Smith season is unearthing some lovely old films with the Dame and today's was 'Memento Mori' from 1991. I don't think I've ever heard of the film or the book it's based on (a Muriel Spark book from 1959) but I'm pleased I've heard of it now.

It's the story of a group of literary friends in London who, by the time of the story in the 1950s, find themselves old and infirm, most of them are monied and used to having servants, others have fallen on harder times and only have their memories of their former reputations to keep them going. Their rivalries and their loves continue, of course. And then one of them starts getting disturbing telephone calls to remind her that she will die, and then others in the group start receiving the same calls, even when visiting friends. What's going on?

You find out in the end, but I'm not going to spoil it for you.

Maggie Smith plays Mrs Pettigrew, ladies companion and all-round bad egg bumping off employers for rewards in their wills and a nasty piece of work she is. Michael Hordern and Renee Asherson play husband and wife Godfrey and Charmian Colston, with Charmian being a famous and successful author of yesteryear, now infirm and borderline senile. Except she's not, that's simply what being over-protected in old age has done to her. We also have Stephanie Cole as the perennial oldster who dies first (has she ever played anyone even vaguely young?) and Zoe Wanamaker as one of the old folks' grand-daughters who teases Godfrey for a pound a glimpse of her thighs.

The star turn in this film for me was Thora Hird as Charmian's former servant and erstwhile friend who is in a hospital for the infirm but keeps track of her old family as best she can and, in the end, joins Charmian in her posh old folks home in Sussex. Thora was excellent and heart-breaking in her total honesty about age and her fellow inmates at the hospital who are treated as being infirm and become more infirm as a result.

Although there's a lot of craftiness in this film, there's also a lot of honesty and it's that that I really respond to. There were some lovely performances and the ending isn't what you expect at all. It's well worth seeing so, the next time you have the opportunity to see it on the big screen, make sure you see it.  I will.

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