Get local news delivered straight to your phone
Support City Paper!
Venus may be a tiny movie, but it provides Peter O’Toole with one of his biggest screen roles in two decades. Admittedly, he’s not stretching: He plays an aging actor who’s no less grand, if a little less renowned, than O’Toole himself. But director Roger Michell and scripter Hanif Kureishi haven’t simply enlisted the performer to be himself for 90-odd minutes. The duo, whose 2003 film, The Mother, shattered easy assumptions about an older woman’s sexuality, have devised a nuanced characterization that gives O’Toole plenty to do. He plays Maurice, a one-time London stage actor who’s occasionally summoned out of retirement to play a small film or TV role (usually, it seems, as the dying patriarch). But he mostly hangs out with fellow aging thespian Ian (Leslie Phillips), drinking tea and comparing medications. That all changes when Ian’s grandniece Jessie (Jodie Whittaker) moves in with him. She’s supposed to help care for the old man, but it quickly becomes clear that she has little empathy for him and no domestic skills. She’s actually been sent to London because she got in trouble —you know the kind—and has vague notions of becoming a model. Maurice is enchanted with Jessie, but not because he can perceive her hidden depths. It’s just that she’s a reasonably pretty young woman, the first one Maurice has known in what is clearly too long. He calls her Venus and decides to introduce her to the arts, showing her the painting that inspired the nickname and reciting a bit of Shakespeare. (She responds with a few lines from her idea of a classic, Kylie Minogue’s 1987 hit, “I Should Be So Lucky.”) Vanessa Redgrave and The History Boys’ Richard Griffiths appear as some of Maurice’s longtime colleagues, but most of the tale is devoted to Maurice and his Venus—a tender mismatch that can’t last long. If Jessie is not exactly the savviest of muses, Whittaker holds her own against her famous co-star. While personifying the primal feminine that beckons to an elderly man, she’s also entirely persuasive as a spoiled adolescent brat from the provinces.