Review: My Old Lady

Inheriting a bitter legacy


It was the poet Philip Larkin who provided the most damning and potentially accurate assessment of parenting when he wrote: "They f--- you up, your mum and dad. /They may not mean to, but they do./ They fill you with the faults they had/ And add some extra, just for you."

I can't imagine many Jewish parents agreeing but in Israel Horowitz's film of his play, My Old Lady, they don't get the chance because they are dead.

For Mathias Gold, played by Kevin Kline, it is the death of his hated and estranged father that brings him to Paris to claim an inheritance consisting of a two-floor apartment with a garden.

For the thrice-divorced Gold, a broken alcoholic battling historical demons, real-estate acquisition couldn't have come at a better time, but there's a catch.

He has another inheritance, Mathilde Girard (Dame Maggie Smith), who informs him that the apartment is part of an arrangement called a viager - which basically means she can live there until her death, along with her spinster daughter (delectable Kristen Scott Thomas).

Madame Girard is, it turns out, the healthy one, while Gold suffers from emotional problems due to the absentee father who draped his life in misery and rage.

Such past revelations are part of the enjoyment of this film which at times feels a little stagey, but leaves you wondering a little more about the life of thrice-divorced director Horowitz.

As for the consummately professional Dame Maggie, she always delivers, but there are times when I wish she had never agreed to steal the show at Downton Abbey, as not even she can entirely escape from the Countess of Grantham.

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