Cozy accent on class

Peeking into Irish widows' world

Published: Mar 17 2021, 01:01:am

Tuesday, May 10, 1994.
WIDOWS' PEAK. Written by Hugh Leonard. Music by Carl Davis. Directed by John Irvin. Running time: 101 minutes. Rated Mature with the B.C. Classifier’s warning "occasional coarse language."

FAITH, AND THEY'RE polite about it.
    "We respectfully ask that you treat Widows' Peak as you would any old-fashioned mystery yarn, and use discretion in discussing its ending." In a wee note, the makers of this twee Irish film beg our indulgence.
    'Tis a bit of a puzzler, to be sure. Indeed, I'd be hard pressed to tell you precisely when English director John (Turtle Diary) Irvin's blarney-filled suspense comedy takes place.
    At one point, I believe I heard the widow Broome (Natasha Richardson) say that her dear departed husband died seven years earlier, in 1919. That would make the year 1926.
    Later though, her spinster neighbour Miss Catherine O'Hare (Mia Farrow) tells us of an occurrence in 1904. And that, she says, was 30 years ago. Is it now 1934?
    The question of where is a tad easier.
    Widows' Peak is the local name for the heights overlooking rural Kilshannon, Ireland. It's home to the wealthy surviving mates of good marriages, and is the power centre of a Celtic social matriarchy ruled by the widow Doyle Counihan (played by the widow Olivier herself, Joan Plowright).
    The tale is told to us by tippling dentist Con Clancy (Jim Broadbent). A newcomer to the region, he's been courting Miss O'Hare and he observes that, despite her church-mouse poverty, the never-married woman is somehow connected to the closed circle of widows.
    It begins with the arrival of young First World War widow Edwina Broome. She takes up residence on the Peak and quickly attracts the attentions of Mrs. D.C.'s playboy son Godfrey (Adrian Dunbar).
    For her part, Miss O'Hare takes an immediate dislike to the outgoing Edwina. Soon the poor townsfolk are inundated with more gossip than a supermarket tabloid's assignments editor.
    What more can I say without being indiscreet? 'Tis pretty, as any period film shot on lush green Irish locations must be.
    'Tis cute in the manner of its performer reversals. Here is Los Angeles-born New York resident Farrow fitted out with a brogue, and not a little Rosemary.
    And here is the British-born Richardson playing a gum-chewing, American-accented seductress. Do you think that she might once have been acquainted with Mr. Henry Gondorff of Chicago?
    Designed for filmgoers of an age to recognize the clues in the last two paragraphs, Widows' Peak is a mannered, class-conscious drawing-room mystery. Low-powered and just a bit smug, it's for those who enjoyed actress Richardson's mother (Vanessa Redgrave) in the mildly diverting Agatha (1979).

The above is a restored version of a Province review by Michael Walsh originally published in 1994. For additional information on this archived material, please visit my FAQ.

Afterword: For those not of an age to recognize the “clues” mentioned in the final paragraphs of the above review, let me explain its now dated movie references. In Mia Farrow’s case, I expected readers to know that she’d made her breakthrough to stardom playing the title role in director Roman Polanski’s Rosemary’s Baby, a 1968 supernatural thriller set in Manhattan. The Natasha Richardson clue is bit more convoluted. It is supposed to imply that her character is a con artist by suggesting an acquaintance with a “Mr. Henry Gondorff,” the Chicago grifter played by Paul Newman in director George Roy Hill’s 1973 comedy The Sting. Joan Plowright was, in fact, the widow of English acting legend Laurence Olivier. During their 28-year marriage, she bore him a son and two daughters, while his conjugal connection entitled her to be addressed as Lady, and later Baroness, Olivier.