"You have heard that it was said, 'You shall not commit adultery.' But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lust has already committed adultery with her in his heart.'" (Matthew 5:27-8)
Maurice (Peter O'Toole) and his best friend Ian (Leslie Phillips) are two old English stage actors who meet for breakfast regularly at their favorite café, sometimes with other friends. They accompany each other to the theater. They look after each other, and frequently enjoy cocktails together in the early evening. Though Maurice is married, he doesn't seem to spend much time with Valerie (Vanessa Redgrave). Oh, he wanders over to visit occasionally, and they talk like old friends. Sometimes he gives her money, when he's had a little acting gig, maybe playing a dying man on a television hospital drama. But Maurice enjoys thinking of himself as still a man about town. He becomes very interested when Ian's niece sends her still-teenage daughter Jessie (Jodie Whittaker) to live with him. Jessie wants to find a job as a model, and Ian wants someone to cook and clean for him. Except when she arrives, she hardly acts like anybody's nursemaid. She's pouty and surly, she sits around and eats a lot during the day (she's already consumed all the liquor in the house), and at night she wants to go out to pubs, and then sleep late. She and her fussy old great-uncle can hardly stand to be around each other, but Maurice is enchanted, nay, intoxicated, by Jessie's youthful spunk. He wants to get to know her, so he takes her out shopping, and then is embarrassed when he can't pay for the dress that he said looks so good on her. He takes her to the museum and shows her the painting of Venus, reclining, and informs her that the nude female form is the most beautiful thing in the world to a man. When she asks what's the most beautiful thing in the world to a woman, he replies, "Her first baby."
This unlikely pair starts spending a great deal of time together. She's a little "creeped out" by his moon-eyed goofiness over her, but finds his cloying charm irresistible. He begs to touch her, just to caress her hand, or kiss her shoulder. She dispenses these small favors at strategic moments after he has been particularly nice to her, like buying her earrings. He makes her skin crawl when he touches her, but she's also curiously compelled by his audacious vivacity. He finds her a job modeling for his figure drawing class, but she can't bear to have him look, so he leaves the room, stands on a stool in the hallway, and peeks through the window like a perverted schoolboy. He agrees to accompany her to a loud, crowded local pub, but finds himself to be ridiculously jealous when she attracts the attention of a scowling young man much closer to her age. "There's no fool like an old fool," indeed.
And yet Maurice is determined to prove that despite his obviously advancing years, he isn't dead yet. He doesn't bother to tell the people close to him that he's got prostate cancer, and needs an operation. He fights, literally, with his old friend Ian about his ongoing "corruption" of Jessie. Maurice strongly feels that he didn't take her any place that she didn't already know how to go. Besides, being around Jessie bestirs in Maurice his youthful passion for the companionship of a beautiful young woman. It confirms his virility, somehow, despite the fact that their relationship is not literally sexual. (Perhaps the biblical analogy is old King David with Abishag the Shunammite, 1 Kings 1.)
Peter O'Toole just might receive his long-awaited Oscar for this performance, which is brimming with vitality. Leslie Phillips does a masterful job "playing off" the mercurial O' Toole, and Vanessa Redgrave's role, though small, is powerfully memorable. Newcomer Jodie Whittaker is like the corrupted little street urchin in "Pgymalion" who won't transform into "My Fair Lady," more like the "Pretty Woman" who discovers some self-respect to accompany her shallow, gum-smacking bravura. "Venus" is short on explosions, chase scenes, and digitally enhanced screen images, but long on pratfall humor, sudden mood swings, and witty repartee. It promises to attract a mostly older audience, who will have plenty of opportunity to laugh at themselves.
Questions For Discussion:
1) What do youth and old age have to offer each other?
2) How do you feel about May/December relationships?
3) If you knew you were going to die soon, where is the one place you'd like to visit one last time?
Dr. Ronald P. Salfen, Pastor, First Presbyterian Church, Terrell, Texas