Review: My Old Lady - Wisdom, Wisecracks and Wrinkles

Farhana Gani 

Maggie Smith excels as the wily, ageing tenant of a once-glorious Paris apartment who stands in the way of Kevin Kline’s inheritance.

Veteran playwright Israel Horowitz’s directing debut feature My Old Lady, an adaptation of his own hit play, opens with a whimsical premise based on a real-life quirk in French property law. Worn-out writer Mathias Gold (Kevin Kline) arrives penniless in Paris to take possession of a vast but shabby apartment, only to discover it is inhabited by elegant ninety-something Mathilde Girard (Maggie Smith) and her fifty-something daughter Chloé (Kristin Scott Thomas). Worse still, according to an agreement struck with his father, Mathias is expected to pay Mathilde €2,400 a month for as long as she continues to live.

The film takes a melancholy turn as Mathias surrenders to his failures and hits the bottle, all the time scheming to find a loophole by which he can oust the Girards and claim his inheritance. Then, as he digs around the house, he happens upon evidence that the two families have closer bonds than he could ever have imagined.

Maggie Smith - My Old Lady

All actors deliver brilliant, if not disparate performances. Beloved Brit, Maggie Smith is a bombardment of wry quips and canny observations (of the kind her Downton dowager desperately lacks). Meanwhile, Kline veers from shabby, emotive down-and-out into alcohol addled bravado, and Scott Thomas smoulders with irritation and vulnerability. Naturally enough Smith steals the show in the titular role. Forgoing a wig and adopting minimal make-up – and drawing on eight decades of living and six decades in the limelight – to deliver a convincing portrayal of a woman of experience and guile, at peace with her present circumstances and past tribulations.

Although no one could possibly feel as sorry for Mathias as he himself does, Chloé astonishingly comes close, but the whole theatrical yarn is spun with such studied artifice and satisfying glee that the sentimental ending can be forgiven. Meanwhile Paris, eternal City of Light, withstands Horowitz’s joyful affections with wintry stoicism.

My Old Lady is released nationwide on 21 November

Watch the trailer: