Fans of British films set in the picturesque tourist destinations of Italy should really enjoy the engaging and highly entertaining film, A Month By the Lake from director John Irvin and based on a story by H.E.Bates. And while nothing much really happens in the film it’s an enjoyable romp, thanks mainly to the talents of the film’s leading actors Vanessa Redgrave and James Fox.
One of the unspoken rules in films that depict the British abroad, is that away from the damp and the fog of their native land, they tend to drop inhibitions and go just a little crazy as they engage in activities and relationships they wouldn’t dream of indulging in in their native land. Take Shirley Valentine and Where Angels Fear To Tread–just two of dozen of titles that explore the behaviour of the British abroad.
A Month By the Lake begins with Miss Bentley (veteran actress Vanessa Redgrave) striding up the steps of an elegant lakeside Italian villa. This is the Lake Como resort Miss Bentley has visited every year for 16 years, but this is the first time she’s come alone. Although her father has recently died, Miss Bentley returns alone to the resort as she loves Lake Como and has made firm friends amongst the other guests. This is, we are told via voice over narration, that last glorious summer before the war.
But while rumours of war grumble in the background, the action focuses on the villa and its guests. There are a couple of middle-aged American women there and also the solitary retired British Major Wilshaw (James Fox). Lonely Miss Bentley is attracted to Major Wilshaw on the very first day, and while circumstances throw them together upon occasion, he’s beguiled by the saucy, young American governess, Miss Beaumont (Uma Thurman) who has charge of two little Italian girls.
This gentle romance follows the trials and tribulations of Wilshaw’s courtship, and while the film could so easily have become cliched and like a million other films on the same subject, A Month By the Lake is saved by its wry humour and sly look at the many foibles of human behaviour–vanity, willfulness, boredom and loneliness all gilded with the fact that these characters are far away from home and the repercussions of their behaviour may not wash ashore on their doorsteps.
The film keeps the shadows of impending war in the background, but the sense remains that so much is on the brink of loss and destruction. Vanessa Redgrave steals the film as the buoyant Miss Bentley, so easy to underestimate and designate as “spinster” while underneath passion and an irrepressible zest for life longs to burst free