Ain’t it always the way? You wait your whole life for a film about a sweet yet deluded, ageing diva living out her dreams in front of a packed concert hall, then two come along at once!
Hot-ish on the heels of Xavier Giannoli‘s Marguerite comes Florence Foster Jenkins, the bitter-sweet, true tale of a wealthy well-heeled socialite whose passion for music tragically knows no bounds.
Whereas Marguerite was a similar tale based loosely upon the story of Florence Foster Jenkins, Stephen Frears’ film is a depiction of the actual Florence Foster Jenkins, played with predictable grace, flair and excellent comic timing, by Meryl Streep.
Streep is ably assisted by her young piano-playing accompanist, Cosme McMoon (Stephen Helberg), and St Clair Bayfield, Florence’s well-to-do husband, played by Hugh Grant.
I must say, whilst not a total departure from the sort of role that’s so severely typecast Grant over the years, his role here is a more layered, emotionally involving one than anything in recent memory.
He juggles a marriage and an affair with a younger woman, whilst seeking to localise and dampen down Florence’s occasional flights of fancy, lest she get ahead of herself and shatter her one, all-defining delusion; that she is a singer of some note.
For Florence Foster Jenkins is indeed a singer, but more often than not one of many a wrong note!
It’s one thing giving intimate recitals to the small number of fawning members within her private music appreciation society, but quite another for Florence to take her ‘talent’ outside of this well-isolated circle, and risk the ridicule of the masses.
St Clair Bayfield, with much to lose on many a level, will do just about anything to maintain the existing status quo, but increasingly he has his work cut out.
Whereas Marguerite was perhaps a little more Shakespearean in its tragic element, Florence Foster Jenkins, although not shying away from that side of things, chooses to place greater emphasis on the comic element and the film frequently slips into moments of high farce, in which Streep, Grant and Helberg excel.
It’s a light-hearted approach totally befitting the story, but not at the expense of moments of genuine emotion and poignancy. Despite many wrong-doings and ill-conceived actions by certain characters, Stephen Frears’ direction is such that one still can’t help but feel a great deal of empathy for each of them, no matter their misdemeanours.
Ultimately, Florence Foster Jenkins is a very likeable and highly entertaining film which should appeal to a wide cross section of people. A tale of misguided dreams, but of great courage in attempting to realise them.
We could all learn a thing or two from Florence Foster Jenkins.