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Nobody does loneliness better than the British. The awful wallpaper and the dishes of indeterminate egg product and the pekoe dregs at the bottom of all those porcelain cups and the clocks that seem to be ticking just a little slower than Greenwich’s. With what consummate variety do these people consign themselves to death-in-life! Dan Ireland’s Mrs. Palfrey at the Claremont is the first movie to make me think there’s a limit to all that variety. From the moment its heroine sets her sensible shoes on the London pavement, it reeks of old clotted cream. Our Mrs. P., it seems, is a widow who’s come to stay at a murderously drab pensioner’s hotel, where everyone sits in silence, like the congregation of the dead in Our Town. A lucky accident, however, plummets her into the life of aspiring young writer Ludovic Meyer (Orlando Bloom look-alike Rupert Friend), for whom she provides both affirmation and a running spigot of material. That this septuagenarian muse is played by Joan Plowright would normally redound to the film’s credit, but nothing in Plowright’s sad toffee eyes or her Lady Bracknell–crossed– with–Dame Edna cadences will take you by surprise—or even help you figure out where you are. Screenwriter Ruth Sacks has grafted a 1971 novel by (the other) Elizabeth Taylor onto the present, but the old tissue keeps poking through the new: rotary phones and crushed-velvet hats and Ludovic’s Remington typewriter and that whole gallery of grotesques at the Claremont who seem to have been dragged from the rubble of the Old Vic. “Good Lord!” cries Ludovic as he dines with his elderly benefactor. “We’re trapped in a Terence Rattigan play!” In fact, they’re trapped in something worse: a comedy of manners with no keen fix on manners and no hunger for true human comedy.—Louis Bayard