Retro Review: Up at the Villa

Written: May 3, 2000

A smaller film with that old style charm.

“Up at the Villa” chronicles the story of beautiful British aristocrat, Mary (Kristin Scott Thomas) who is living in Italy during World War II. Mary is debating if she should marry a much older British lord (James Fox).

During her debate, she is faced with the brutish approach of a renegade named Rolly (Sean Penn), the feeble heart of an Austrian violinist named Karl (Jeremy Davies), and an untimely death and a cover up that could destroy her potential for greatness.

“Up at the Villa” is filmed and written like those grand society scandal films of the 1950s which starred Clark Gable. Matter of a fact Penn does quite a good brooding impersonation of Gable. Thomas gives off an allure similar to a Vivian Leigh or Hedy Lamarr.

It’s amazing to see how many films lately have revisited those classics. I would have loved to have seen this story shot and touched up to look like a film noir classic of that era. The black and white settings coupled with the subtle acting could have helped this kind of movie stand out in a flooded early summer market. That does beg the question why don’t they film these kinds of movies with that ideal in mind? I know I would love it. The Marilyn Monroe and Cary Grant films are still my favorites. The only small problem I had was when one of the characters commits suicide by shooting himself in the chest.

Wouldn’t the head have been easier? I also found myself wondering if someone else had shot him. I guess with sticking to the theme of the suicide and allowing the film to stick with older film morals the film movie needed a subtle suicide that didn’t deliver much violence.

“Up at the Villa” is a solid high society scandal film that is worth a look. A homage to the eras gone by is great when it’s done well. I liked how this film was done.

My favorite scene had to be Mary’s confrontation with the fascist leader (Massimo Ghini) to get the man she obviously loves out of prison for a crime he didn’t commit.

This scene unravels the purity of Mary’ s English upbringing and the way she acts all for the man she loves is quite out of her character. Its great to see characters struggle with morals when they are faced with a desperate situation.

Derek Jacobi and Anne Bancroft are brilliant in supporting roles. Jacobi has always been a scene stealer and in this kind of atmosphere he does shine. In almost all his scenes he is hilarious as the flamboyant Lucky Leadbetter. Equally flamboyant is Bancroft as the pompous princess who loves her society functions and juicy gossip. The scene where Thomas gets her drunk is very memorable.

“Up at the Villa” is a little gem, look for it.

(4 out of 5)

So Says the Soothsayer.

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