Review By Robert Snyder
'Venus' - Song Of A Dying Swan
Legendary actor Peter O'Toole was once questioned whether he was afraid of dying. He answered, "Petrified." When asked, "Why?" he said, "Because there's no future in it." We should all be "petrified" of a world without the glorious Peter O'Toole.
In "Venus," which could be his swan song, O'Toole plays himself in the form of Maurice. Craggy and decrepit, Maurice is an aging actor losing his health, but still loaded with heaps of class and charisma. His days are spent sparring with his ancient acting buddy, Ian (Leslie Phillips), getting medical checkups and doing an occasional role.
The routine is invaded by 20-year-old street slut Jessie (Jodie Whittaker), the grandniece of Ian, who banishes her from his London home when exposed to her bad habits. Maurice is far more adventurous and takes a Henry Higgins approach to the situation. He wraps her under his wing, trying to enlighten her, which is almost hopeless from her point of view. She uses him to get a few things, like a tattoo, jewelry and drinks. Maurice sees her as a thin sexual connection, but considering his age and medical condition, a little goes a long way.
When Maurice dubs her, "Venus," it's hard to comprehend because she is no great beauty and is rarely nice to him, except in the final scenes after her punk boyfriend clobbers him. In fact, she does some clobbering herself, every time he attempts to cop a feel, a kiss or a sniff in his sweetly lecherous old way.
O'Toole as always is a revelation, particularly when he's reciting verse, playing with witty Ian and sharing several sad, poignant moments with estranged wife, Valerie (Vanessa Redgrave). Valerie and Maurice are just beginning to ignite when we're back in Jessieland.
Though apparently picked from thousands, Miss Whittaker is miscast. She can barely act, is not photogenic and lacks the spirit, which should define her character. Also, she's up against one of history's greatest actors, so you almost feel sorry for her. Wasn't there any aspiring actress in England with charm enough fill this plum part?
Directed by Roger Michell from a Hanif Kureishi script, who both have dealt with old age and sexuality before ("The Mother"), "Venus" is well worth seeing for O'Toole and his cronies, whom we likely won't be seeing much longer.
It is a perfect illustration of the adage, "Youth is wasted on the young.'