Film Review: Florence Foster Jenkins

Florence Foster Jenkins

Stephen Frears’ Florence Foster Jenkins offers few surprises for those that have seen the trailer. The film is an entertaining comedy drama with great performances.

Heiress Florence Foster Jenkins is a long-time patron of the arts. She dreams of being an opera singer, not quite realising the limitations of her voice. Her husband St. Clair does his best to keep Florence in the dark, but she yearns to perform…

Based on the New York socialite with an inflated sense of talent, Florence Foster Jenkins could have been a mean or unforgiving portrayal. In director Stephen Frears capable hands, however, the subject is handled amiably. The film focuses on the title character’s later years, leading up to her performance at Carnegie Hall. Frears concentrates on the protagonist and those she was close to, rather than the performance itself.

Stephen Frears needed to tread a narrow line in creating the comedy derived from Florence’s vocal abilities, and not making the character into a clown. The director executes this well; the film is a warm portrait of an interesting and generous person. Similarly, her relationships are portrayed with depth and feeling. The film does not fall back on the trope of the gold-digging younger spouse.

Florence Foster Jenkins reflects the different aspects of its title character. Florence is not a pantomime dame. More serious elements of the protagonist are depicted with the requisite emotion. Frears colours his character with strength and weakness. The lead performance from Meryl Streep is as convincing as ever. Hugh Grant plays the toff as ever, although St Clair is more three dimensional than this. Simon Helberg is wonderfully expressive as Cosme. Costumes in the film are beguiling, and the music is great.

Florence Foster Jenkins is predictable, but good writing, directing and performances mean that this is not a deterrent. Unlike Florence herself, the film hits all the right notes.

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