All Passion Spent (1986)

“When can one please oneself if not in old age?”

This delightful, restrained three-part BBC series is the story of eighty-five-year old Lady Slane (Wendy Hiller) whose husband, a former Viceroy of India and former British Prime Minister dies. When the story begins in 1930, Lady Slane’s five children gather to discuss their mother’s future. With Lord Slane deceased, there will not be enough money to maintain the splendid London mansion, so instead, the children–led by the eldest, hideously pompous son, Herbert (Graham Crowdon)–decide the house should be sold, and their mother rotated between them for short periods of time.

Bossy Carrie Slane (Phyllis Calvert) thinks this is a splendid plan. Grasping son William and his avaricious wife Lavinia (Faith Brook) aren’t keen on the idea–after all, it’ll probably cost them some money. Gentle spinster Edith (Hilary Mason) can’t wait to move into her own flat and fulfill her dream of owning a canary. Kay Slane–a determined bachelor–just doesn’t want his life to be disturbed. While the arguments rage between the ‘children’ (they must all be in their late 50s to early 60s), Lady Slane is hatching her own plans.

Herbert states that his mother has always had “decisions made for her” so he anticipates no argument when he reveals his plan that she should become a roving guest. But there’s another side to Lady Slane that her children seem completely unaware of. Yes, she was a devoted wife and mother, but now as a widow, she sees an opportunity to finally please herself.

While her children argue and imagine carving up their share of the jewelry and antiques, Lady Slane quietly and very determinedly sets out to lease a house in Hampstead–a relatively modest dwelling that she first set eyes on thirty years before. She meets the eccentric owner, Mr. Bucktrout (Maurice Denham) and arranges to move in.

Based on the novel by Vita Sackville-West, All Passion Spent is an unflinching yet positive exploration of aging. All duties concluded, Lady Slane finally comes into her true self at the age of eighty-five, and stating “I’m going to wallow in old age and be completely self-indulgent” she refuses to allow anyone under the age of 40 to visit her in her new home (the one exception is her favourite granddaughter). In Bucktrout, Lady Slane discovers a like-minded soul–a man who says, “Nowadays I can scarcely enjoy the company of anyone under 70.” An old admirer from Lady Slane’s past–the eccentric reclusive millionaire Mr. Fitzgeorge (Harry Andrews in a marvelous performance) soon comes to call, and in their mutual old age, Fitzgeorge and Lady Slane become the very best of friends.

All Passion Spent is a gentle, eloquent film. There’s a bittersweet thread to the story, but there are some splendid touches of light humour–mainly to be found in the behaviour of Lady Slane’s children. They see their mother as a role rather than as a person, and her independent decisions seem–at least to the domineering children, Herbert, and Carrie, and the toadying William–to be signs of dementia. There’s not much in the way of extras (but who cares?)–just a Sackville-West bio, and cast filmographies. This is BBC drama at its best, and fans should seek out the film and prepare for 158 minutes of sheer delight.

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