Our rating: 5 out of 5
reviewed by Charity Bishop
Some movies are meant to be earth-shattering and others are simply divine. Enchanted April is a quiet little film about women and the assumptions they make, the time alone they need, and the love they are meant to share with one another and the men in their lives. It is understated and wonderful.
The notion of renting an Italian castle strikes the interest of all who read about it in the advertisement in the Times. More than anything, lonely housewife Lottie Wilkins (Josie Lawrence) wants to take it up, but she cannot afford it on her own and so she approaches a complete stranger (but one she has seen in church) and begs her to go halves. Rose Arbuthnot (Miranda Richardson) is at first put off by the idea, but needing time away from the children and a husband increasingly more fascinated with his work as an author, she agrees. They rent the castle from its eccentric owner (Michael Kitchen) and then set about finding two more women to share it with, so that it only costs them 15 pounds each. Paired with an aristocrat tired of "grabbing men" (Polly Walker) and an older woman mourning the loss of everyone she once loved (Joan Plowright), the four strangers share the villa in Italy for a month... and the magic of the place starts to get to them.
Mrs. Fisher finds that she can actually walk without her cane. The aristocratic Caroline learns that she must not judge people on first appearances. Lottie realizes that she must invite her unlovely husband (Alfred Molina) in an attempt to repair the "loss of love between them," and her action prompts Rose to do the same. What transpires is not profound so much as it is sweet. It is a movie about women in which men also play an important role. It has a happy ending and went in several unexpected directions... one woman found her youth through the realization that young, vibrant, and alive friends are much better company than dead poets, two women repaired their faltering marriages, and the third discovered that there are noble men out there interested in more than just her beauty. I expected almost nothing of it and was surprised at not only how innocent it is, but how much I liked it. No, I loved it. It is so nice to watch something that doesn't whack you over the head with immorality, language, or sexual content every few minutes.
There are a few mild content warnings but nothing to be overly concerned about. One of the husbands (Jim Broadbent) is considering having an affair and is pursuing a younger woman. There is some flirtation there. He also writes rather lewd books that his wife heartily disapproves of -- we never hear or read any of it, just that she thinks it is inappropriate to write anything "God would not read." Though Rose is a devout woman, shown at church and in prayer, she entertains the mild attentions of a man who mistakenly thinks she has been widowed. There is some discussion over whether or not it is pleasant to share a room with one's husband, and a mild innuendo or two. The film is rated PG for language but I cannot remember anything, so there may have been one profanity or two.
Its production design is not astounding but it does feature some beautiful scenes in Italy of lavish gardens and ragged cliffs that feed down into luminous waters. There is also some beautiful performances from the actors and actresses involved. I have never been impressed with Polly Walker, but loved her as Caroline. I assumed wrongly that she would be a bit of a snob and no fun at all, but she turned out to be rather sweet. Rose, who is called a "Madonna" for her solemn aspect, is also deeper than I expected. But the real gem here is Lottie, who transforms all of their lives through her determination to make a difference. It is she that brings Mrs. Fisher out of her solitude, who encourages Rose to make up with her husband, who writes to her own husband and invites him to stay with her. She is the heart and soul of the film, and is indeed what makes that particular April so enchanted.