(Reviewed December 8, 2006, by James Dawson)
Peter O'Toole is Oscar-worthy excellent as an elderly and erudite actor in love with a coarse, utterly uncultured but strangely charming teenager (Jodie Whittaker) who is the grand-niece of his fussy fellow-actor best friend (Leslie Phillips).
Forget "Lolita Does London" lust and lasciviousness, though. The movie is more about the wistfulness, enchantment and desperate yearning that can be inspired in men of any age by the right unobtainable girl.
The note-perfect screenplay by Hanif Kureishi also paints a wry but melancholy portrait of what the sunset years are like for O'Toole's aging character, his financially struggling ex-wife (Vanessa Redgrave) and his past-their-prime friends. Director Roger Michell gets everything right, from the humor to the pathos to the quiet moments when an adoring look conveys everything we need to know.
Without proper handling, certain elements of the script could have smacked of nothing deeper than wanton wish-fantasy material for dirty middle-aged-and-older men. Although Whittaker delivers occasional rebuffs to O'Toole's advances that range from verbal insults to a sharp elbow jab, she's always ultimately forgiving. What keeps this believable is the fact that O'Toole so obviously is a basically decent and thoughtful old chap, one for whom lustfully inappropriate remarks and gestures have more in common with replaying a favorite remembered role than acting on irresistible impulse.
Whittaker is wonderful at conveying slowly dawning understanding and respect for a man four times her age who thinks of her as his own personal Venus, eventually seeing the humanity beneath the horndog. Incredibly, this is Whittaker's screen debut.
Back Row Reviews Grade: A