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Venus

Year: 2007
Production Co: Free Range Films
Director: Roger Michell
Cast: Peter O'Toole, Jodie Whittaker
It's a story about a man facing the inevitable decay of age, when a chance comes into his life that rekindles his appreciation of beauty and gives him something to latch onto again, something to believe in again that reminds him the heart can stay young no matter what obstacles the infirm body can throw in his way.

No, we're not talking about Rocky Balboa here. Venus is an altogether more delicate beast, and Sylvester Stallone is in quite a different class from the charming and eloquent Peter O'Toole as aging actor Maurice.

Maurice's best friend is another aging, cantankerous actor, Ian (Philips). A serial complainer about the likelihood of him 'dropping dead at any minute', Ian invites his grandniece down from the North, the uncouth and self-centred Jessie (Whittaker).

Maurice is intrigued with the profane, common youngster. As different as they are, he's drawn to her, and when Ian reports that he's invited a hellhound into his house he can't wait to get rid of, Maurice does both his friend and himself the favour of talking Jessie out with him to the theatre, museum, and all the other cultural markers of his life.

Taking to calling her 'Venus' because of her attraction to Velasquez's painting Venus at her Mirror, its soon apparent Maurice's relationship to her isn't entirely platonic. Maurice sees through Jessie's rough exterior to the genuinely attractive woman and he is after all still a man, taking what he calls a 'theoretical' interest in the opposite sex. It's never entirely clear why he feels for her the way he does - maybe that's director Michell's point; he's a man, she's a woman, and age is just a number.

But when Maurice starts falling too hard, and taking being away from Jessie too hard is when the film really turns. The smart laughs that pepper the early dialogue largely dry up as Maurice gradually loses what poise and dignity he has left being so smitten with a woman a third his age who alternatively feels for him but rebuffs his every physical advance.

After that, the story really has nowhere to go. The two begin to act in ways that are a mystery to everyone but themselves, as if another director was bought in a premise that started to get stale after it had made its point.

Despite the late derailment, watching O'Toole in action is a pleasure. If you haven't watched him in a film since the DVD of Lawrence of Arabia or even Troy a couple of years back, you've in for a shock. Now 75, he looks every part a withered old man, trying to maintain the inherent power of his masculinity in the face of a body rapidly betraying him, and the humour in his words and quiet desperation and heartbreak in his eyes are an acting masterclass.

Newcomer Whittaker holds her own against O'Toole, and a classy script goes a long way to making it a great movie, but it works better as a series of vignettes commenting on age, friendship, death and respect for yourself.

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