Reviewed by GREG KING
Director: Richard Loncraine
Stars: Imelda Staunton, Celia Imrie, Timothy Spall, Joanna Lumley, David Hayman, John Sessions, Josie Lawrence, Sian Thomas.
Following its premiere as the closing night attraction at the 2017 British Film Festival, this formulaic and cliched bittersweet romcom gets a theatrical release. With its story of elderly Brits enjoying life and facing mortality, second chances and finding romance late in life, this is an endearing but flawed feel good film that will appeal to the same demographic that embraced films like The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, etc. Finding Your Feet is the type of affable romantic comedy the British do so well when they get it right. While it’s enjoyable enough and will please its target audience, Finding Your Feet is an imperfect film and is also a little formulaic, cliched, and a tad patronising and manipulative.
Lady Sandra Abbott (played by Imelda Staunton, from Pride, Vera Drake, etc) is an uptight and snobby socialite who has been married to Mike (John Sessions), a high-ranking police commissioner, for forty years and has relished her standing in society. But then on the eve of his retirement she discovers that he has been having a torrid affair with her best friend Pamela (Josie Lawrence) and her world falls apart.
Sandra leaves Mike, and having nowhere else to go, arrives on the doorstep of Bif (Celia Imrie), her estranged older sister whom she hasn’t seen for ten years. The pair initially seem complete opposites. While Sandra is uptight, Bif is something of a bohemian, a free-spirited pot smoking soul who is an activist and heavily involved in her local community. Bif lives in a poky, cluttered flat in a rundown high-rise council estate.
Every Thursday Bif attends dance classes in the local community hall. Sandra, who used to love dancing in her younger days, reluctantly joins her, and there she is introduced to Bif’s colourful circle of friends, including Jackie (Absolutely Fabulous’ Joanna Lumley, still looking good despite her age), Ted (David Hayman) and Charlie (Timothy Spall). At first Sandra struggles to adjust to Bif’s impoverished lifestyle. She also disapproves of Charlie, whom she thinks is a crude oaf, but over time she grows fond of him, and it’s not hard to see where the film is headed.
As the title suggests, soon Sandra reconnects with her sister and also rediscovers the joy of life through dancing and her blossoming romance with Charlie. Only trouble is Charlie has a secret – he is still married, although his wife is suffering from dementia and is confined to a nursing home. Charlie sold the family home in order to provide for her care and now lives on a dilapidated barge on the Thames, which he has spent years fixing up. He harbours dreams of one day sailing away to France.
There are nice performances from the veteran cast of stalwarts of the British film and theatre scene. The three leads share a great rapport that enhances the formulaic material. Staunton gives a nice performance that runs a gamut of emotions as she goes from bitter, judgemental, and vulnerable to light and happy and embracing life. Staunton and Imrie develop a nice dynamic as the sisters re-establishing their once close relationship and their relationship adds to the emotional heft of the film. Spall brings charm and warmth to his performance as well as a nice streak of sardonic humour.
Finding Your Feet is basically another variation on the fish out of water scenario, and it explores universal themes of family, mortality, reconciliation, romance. For a feelgood film though it also delves briefly into some darker territory. The script has been written by first time writer Meg Leonard, a former casting assistant, and Nick Moorcroft (St Trinians, Burke And Hare, etc), and the film packs in a lot of incidents. There are a few laugh out loud moments along the way, and a few tears. Thankfully though Leonard and Moorcroft eschew the mawkish sentimentality that Hollywood filmmakers usually bring to this sort of stuff. However, the ending itself is pure cliché, but many will find it emotionally satisfying.
Director Richard Loncraine (Richard III, Wimbledon, etc) is a dab hand at this kind of thing and he keeps things moving along. The dance sequences bring an infectious energy to the material. The film looks good thanks to some nice cinematography from John Pardue, who has done lots of television work, and who gives us a great sense of the London and Rome settings.