Peter O’Toole, Jodie Whittaker, and Leslie Phillips star
in a film written by Hanif Kureishi and directed by Roger

Reviewed by Josef Woodard

In the movies, May-December romances or flings are a recurring
theme, often fueling the male fantasy machine. With Venus, though,
the genre gets a goosing. We’re not sure whether to cheer, cringe,
or glow warmly when Peter O’Toole’s seventy-something character
Maurice falls in love — one last time — with the twenty-ish woman
who falls into his life (named Jessie and beautifully played by
newcomer Jodie Whittaker). It’s more of a March-late December
romance, but without the boinking.

Maurice is an actor now reduced to playing corpses on TV and
occasional cameo speaking roles; Jessie is an as-yet fully formed
adult, arriving in London from a small town and vaguely interested
in modeling or acting. He tries to extend enlightenment, exposing
her to Shakespearean quotations and Velázquez’s “The Toilet of
Venus” (partly as a means of warming her up to the idea of nude

While their strange romantic flowering is the plot’s
centerpiece, other themes sneak into the film and ennoble it,
including the injustice of aging, the proverbial youth being wasted
on the young, and the ever-louder tick of mortality’s clock.

Venus is yet another example of the dubious nature of preview
trailers. The preview tipped us off to many of the film’s ripest
gags, but had its tone all wrong. Despite the presence of giddy
moments and comic zing, the film’s true personality is more like an
autumnal meditation. Instead of being a breezy, gag-driven project,
it takes us into an atmosphere of intimacy and reflection, with
close-ups in the recurring quarters where Maurice and his friends
gather and grouse. Through it all, O’Toole shines with a wondrous
and nuanced performance. Even when we hate him, we love him.


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