My House in Umbria attempts to move us with the plight of an ageing heroine, so desperate for love and attention she invites her fellow survivors of a train accident to live with her, but who is so far from lovable I found it impossible to do so.
Maggie Smith is a wonderful actor, and she performs exceedingly well here. She is let down, however, by the directions this script forces her to go – alcoholism, nosiness, self-aggrandisement, she does them all. If it weren’t for the twinkle in her eye and the mischievous smirk she occasionally reveals, she would be a thoroughly unlikeable character. Surrounding her are Chris Cooper, who is also excellent, and Benno Fürmann, who is limited only by the script. Fürmann should have been so much more in this, considering the directions the film could have gone in were he a more solid player. The direction and writing missed a chance here.
The settings are spectacular, and were I told that this film was made primarily as an advertisement for Italy I wouldn’t be surprised. The ‘house’ of the title is surrounded by such wonderful scenery, I would be amazed that anyone could live there and do anything other than sit and look. The cinematography also contributes to this sense of the ancient beauty.
Having just learned this film was made for television by the HBO network, I am a little taken aback. I saw this in a cinema in New Zealand, and felt sure it was a British/Italian independent co-production, given its languid pace and subject material. It seems altogether too negative in nature for HBO.
The problem is that I just didn’t enjoy it very much. I did like watching the sights, but we are too often forced to see things through Smith’s perspective, and I found her bordering on repugnant. I am sure I was meant to feel sorry for her, but even knowing that, I still couldn’t. This lack of empathy is a major failing, that stops this film from being great.Rating: