One of the those “perfect little films” that you hear about, Roger Mitchell’s Venus will, hopefully, find a larger audience on DVD than it did in the theaters. Honestly, there is little, if anything, wrong with this little gem, written by veteran Hanif Kureshi (Sammy and Rosie Get Laid, My Beautiful Laundrette) which received an 82 on Metacrtic.com, including three perfect scores of 100. Not far from a pervy Pygmalion, Venus stars the never better Peter O’Toole as Maurice, a sort of horny Henry Higgins alongside the delightful newcomer Jodie Whittaker as Jessie, a Northern chav cum Eliza Doolittle. Jesse has just come to London to stay with her great uncle Ian (a wonderfully cranky Leslie Phillips) and proceeds to turn everyone’s lives arse over tits, as they say.
O’Toole’s performance as an elderly but decidedly randy actor in his dotage ranks among the best he’s ever given and garnered him the ignominy of being the most nominated actor (8 times) never to win an Oscar for acting. He received an honorary Academy Award in 2003. His foil, word for word, line for line is Ms. Whittaker. Even though Venus is the 25 year-old’s debut film role, you’d never know it and she plays her part with a perfect mix of confusion, pride, fear and genuine affection.
The rest of cast, including veteran actors Phillips (still working after almost 70 years in films!), Richard Griffiths (Withnail & I, Harry Potter films) and the incomparable Vanessa Redgrave in a small but Oscar-caliber performance are delights to watch. Not once do they slip and let you remember that you are watching movie stars with more awards and nominations than you can count. Alone worth the cost of the DVD is a scene in which Maurice and Ian meet at the local café for coffee and pills, spreading out their various blues, whites and reds on the table top, eating them like candy. “Do not operate heavy machinery,” reads Phillips, continuing “Keep away from children.” “Biblical advice,” replies Maurice.
The extras on the disc are small but above par. A commentary with director Roger Mitchell and producer Kevin Loader is full of clever anecdotes and real insights into Mitchell’s directing. Adding Kureshi to that mix and a second track with the actors would have been great, but then again, I always want more. The short Venus: A real Work of Art” is a nice little companion piece and absent a commentary track from O’Toole, the short piece has some great bits from the man who some consider the greatest living actor, including the following quote from Blaise Pascal, seemingly spouted off the cuff: “The arbitrary whims and urges of our sexuality are beyond anyone’s reckoning. The heart has reasons that reason knows nothing of.” Beautiful, no?
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