Over the holiday I watched the movie Venus. I guess I was in a bit of a Peter O’Toole mood stemming from his death in December. His movies Lawrence of Arabia, My Favorite Year and Beckett are literally some of my favorite movies of all-time. The guy was a great actor but I had never seen Venus which is a movie that I believe he received his last Oscar nomination for and so with I-tunes offering it for sale at $5, I used a Christmas gift card and bought it. The movie was a delightful surprise and I can see why O’Toole got the Oscar nod for this work.
The premise is actually misleading. An aging, famous actor (O’Toole) becomes infatuated with his best friend’s niece who moved in to the friend’s flat to help him. This was marketed as a love story but it isn’t the type of love story that comes to mind when someone says that. In fact, I would say this is not so much about a love story between two people (they never truly become intimate in the film) but rather about a love with life.
O’Toole has always been a womanizer. He has squandered a fortune made off his fame on booze, women and frivolous pursuits. Physically, he can barely act anymore and uses his fame to take jobs playing corpses on television to bring in extra cash. Jodi Whittaker – who plays the niece – has dreams of fame but no concept of what life is about or any real culture about her.
O’Toole doesn’t fall in love with the niece so much as realize his days are numbered and wants one last go. He does all sorts of things to get close to the niece, she lets him in return for work or a dress or whatever benefits she needs. At first it is mutual relationship based on greed but then something happens. O’Toole … who has a line midway through the movie along the lines “I never knew who I was” discovers who he is and the niece, with O’Toole’s prodding, also sees who she might be if she sets her mind to it. They both learn to love life for what it is. They play many mind games with each but over time a mutual respect grows between the two of them.
O’Toole has nicknamed the niece Venus after the painting and in the third act of the film a tragic event occurs, instigated by the niece, and O’Toole ask her to look after him in his last days. It is at this stage that O’Toole really passes the soul of who he is on to her.
After all their back and forth with each other, O’Toole gets the niece to take him for what he knows will be his last walk along a seashore and produces one of the best, last lines for a character. He takes ill, sits on a bench, put his head on her shoulder and says, “Now we can finally really talk” takes a breath and dies. It is a poignant moment that fits the movie perfectly by underscoring the true themes in the film.
This movie is funny, (I laughed often), a bit heart-wrenching (you end up associating with the characters) and will not be what you expect when you hit the play button. The movie has an all-star cast and if you want to see how Peter O’Toole continued to shine even toward the end of this life then I would recommend this movie.