Sunday, 4 January 2015

'Travels With My Aunt' at the British Film Institute Southbank

New Years Day afternoon saw my first cultural outing of 2015 to see the film, 'Travels With My Aunt' at the BFI Southbank (or National Film Theatre as it is) starring Maggie Smith. The film's from 1972 and won Maggie an Oscar nomination.

Needless to say, I've never seen the film before or read the book so it all came as a delightful surprise. Maggie Smith plays Augusta - the Aunt - who is trying to raise money to free her old lover, Mr Visconti, who has been kidnapped and is being held somewhere in North Africa (i.e. Morocco). To complicate matters, Augusta's sister has just died and the film opens with Augusta attending her funeral and meeting her nephew. She soon reveals that he isn't her nephew since his mother adopted him but she still takes control and they're soon on a train from London to Paris to change sterling into dollars and then another train to Istanbul. All of this is to raise money to save Mr Visconti.

Of course, it all goes horribly wrong and they're caught by the Turkish secret police and put back on a train to the west with other undesirables. Poor Augusta, what is to become of her Mr Visconti?

The tale is told partly through an ongoing present-day narrative and flashbacks to Augusta's youth as a schoolgirl, a young woman and then a more mature woman that tell us how she became the woman she is in the film. It's in these scenes that we see Maggie as she was, not the heavily made-up - and quite convincing - elderly lady. Augusta is one of those magical creatures that seem to have had it all their own way throughout their life and can't even contemplate not getting what they want.  Of course, she is totally over the top and exactly right for this role.

She is supported by Alec McCowen as her assistant bank manager nephew, and Lou Gossett as Wordsworth her lover as well as being a pimp and drug pusher. Robert Stephens plays the cad and downright nasty Mr Visconti (you need to watch until the end to see his true colours, the bounder!) and there's a small part for the lovely Cindy Williams who introduces Henry to the joys of smoking pot on the Orient Express to Istanbul. As soon as I saw Cindy I thought, 'I know that face' and indeed, she played Shirley in 'Laverne and Shirley' a few years later.

All in all it's a delightful film, very of it's time with the colours and themes going on in the background, the travelling across Europe (and, from the credits, it was filmed all over the place) and the nod to a bygone age with characters we won't see anymore. The only thing missing was a druggy dream sequence (for which I am thankful)! Well done Mr Cukor. And Miss Smith.

I thoroughly enjoyed it!

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