Friday, 23 March 2018

Film’s aiming to hit all the right notes

AT first glance you may have been forgiven for thinking that Stephen Frears and the producers

AT first glance you may have been forgiven for thinking that Stephen Frears and the producers of Florence Foster Jenkins had been asleep for the past year.

Films focusing on the same historical event or character are almost always separated by years between their release — if indeed a director even chooses to put their own mark on a story that has already been told.

Not Frears and BBC Films though, who have, quite frankly, taken a massive gamble with the release of Florence Foster Jenkins just months after Marguerite, which was loosely based on the singer’s life, won rave reviews and sold more than a million tickets in French cinemas.

But authenticity may be Frears’s secret weapon here. The French film was set in 1921 and was centred on the character of Marguerite Dumont, who lives near Paris.

In reality, though, Florence Foster Jenkins was an American socialite and amateur operatic soprano — and Frears has chosen to stay close to true life. Not that this is simply a straight biopic of a performer’s path to stardom — for Foster Jenkins was best known for her remarkably poor singing ability.

Played here by Meryl Streep, she obsessively pursued her dream of becoming a great opera singer.

The voice she heard in her head was beautiful, but to everyone else it was hilariously awful.

Her “husband” and manager, St Clair Bayfield, an aristocratic English actor (played by Hugh Grant), was determined to protect his beloved Florence from the truth.

But when she decided to give a public concert at Carnegie Hall in 1944, St Clair knew he was facing his greatest ever challenge.

This is likely to be a touching story and with a filmography that includes 2013’s excellent Philomena and The Queen a decade ago, fans will be hoping that Frears hits all the right notes once again.

His two leads, in Streep and Grant, are likely to be box office gold. They certainly have the pedigree in that department.

This is a film that, although strikingly similar to Marguerite, has the feel of one that will in time be considered a classic piece of British cinema, New York setting or no.

Florence Foster Jenkins is showing at Henley’s Regal Picturehouse from today (Friday).

Review: David White

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