My House In Umbria

My House In Umbria

Cast: Maggie Smith, Timothy Spall, Ronnie Barker, Chris Cooper, Emmy Clarke, Benno Fürmann, Giancarlo Giannini
Director: Richard Loncraine
Genre: Drama
Rated: M mature themes
Running Time: 103 Minutes

Every survivor has a story.

'My House In Umbria' is an adaptation of the William Trevor novel about four strangers who befriend one another, and features radiant performances by Academy Award winners Maggie Smith and Chris Cooper. Maggie Smith plays the elegant yet mischievous Mrs Emily Delahunty, a successful romance novelist living in Umbria who boards a train bound for Milan for her monthly shopping trip. But Emily's idyllic lifestyle is shattered by a train accident and she is taken to hospital and with the aid of her valet, Quinty (Timothy Spall) she befriends and invites three survivors back to her house in Umbria to recover. 'My House In Umbria' is a story told in the grand tradition of quality UK dramas and is set against the seductive and sensory beauty that is the Umbrian and Tuscany countryside.

My Verdict:
Maggie Smith makes 'My House In Umbria'. If it were not for her performance, this would be a most ordinary drama that could be called "nice" and then left for television audiences. As Mrs Emily Delahunty, Maggie has settled in Umbria after living in various parts of the world and she narrates the story in voiceover. She boards the local train to travel to Milan for her monthly shopping trip, and enters her designated compartment where a variety of passengers are already seated. Emily converses with a young girl across from her and discovers she is American Aimee. Moments later, there is an explosion and we next see Emily in hospital where she discovers some of the passengers in her compartment survived the blast. Emily is a rather curious person and seeks out the others and finds they have all lost someone special in the blast and so invites three of them to come to her house in Umbria to recover. They all accept and it is here that bulk of the film takes place.

The characters that are gathered at Emily's house in Umbria are all quite different - Aimee the eight-year-old American orphan, Werner, a young reclusive German and a retired British General played low-key by Ronnie Barker. At the villa in the beautiful countryside, surrounded by olive groves and rambling fields of red poppies, the guests form a unique alliance having all been the victims of the same trauma. Initially, Aimee refuses to speak which is of concern, for the group and for her doctor, and soon her estranged Uncle -Mr Riversmith (Chris Cooper) arrives from America to collect her to take her back to America. This unsettles the dynamics of the group as they have come to care for one another, especially Aimee who they have all taken a shine to. It is Emily who is wary of Mr Riversmith and his motives and as she fills in her days continually sipping grappa, she slowly interrogates him. Some of these scenes are most delightful as you watch Emily push Mr Riversmith to the limit. There is also a sub-plot involving the local police detective who is investigating the bomb on the train.

Maggie Smith barely spends more than one scene in the same costume and is always so chicly and elegantly dressed -she must have been exhausted keeping up with the changes. The support cast are really just that, as this is a story about Mrs Emily Delahunty and her life -where she has been but most importantly where she is now. She appears almost like a mother hen, constantly checking and preening her brood and continually gathering them together. The talented Timothy Spall is wasted in the limited role of the valet, Ronnie Barker is boring in a boring role and Chris Cooper plays Mr Riversmith very deadpan and aloof, confirming Maggie Smith as the standout and she did indeed win an Emmy Award for Outstanding Lead Actress In A Miniseries or Movie albeit in 2003. 'My House In Umbria' constantly feels like something extraordinary is going to happen, but the trouble is, it never does and for that is somewhat disappointing.

Rating : B-

Christina Bruce