Ladies in Lavender has British cinema giants Judi Dench and Maggie Smith playing two dames sharing a house in lovely Cornwall--it's 1936, and world war is on the way. The quiet world of Ursula and Janet Widdington is full of gardening, knitting, and afternoon breaks for tea--that is, until a fantastic piece of intrigue washes up on their shore. One morning, the sisters spy a body splayed out on the rocks. Discovering a young man (Daniel Brühl), they put him up in a spare bed and proceed to nurse him back to health.
Most of Ladies in Lavender is devoted to uncovering the stranger's true identity as a Polish violin virtuoso. The most interesting moments come when Ursula (Dench) reveals her unrequited romantic fascination with the young Pole, and when snippets of subtext-heavy dialogue result between the sisters. However, the motivation of Ursula's futile love is left in the shadows, scarcely acted upon and mostly unexplored.
Such is the pattern throughout the film: A jealous doctor threatens to have the stranger deported, to no avail, and no explanation for the violinist's past is offered. In terms of plot, there's a whole lot of light stroking along these lines; the film never quite gets to the soap opera-like climaxes that seem inevitable after spending so much time with the foreigner and his caretakers in Cornwall.
On the whole, Ladies in Lavender is comfy and mild, with a plot riding more on subtext and sentimentality than logical exposition and visible catharsis. The secrecy and subtlety become frustrating at times; there's very little to appeal to an American boy like myself who's come to love the in-your-face, money shot climaxes of popular Western drama. Afterward, I felt like I'd enjoyed two hours of light foreplay and a fake orgasm: Pleasantly stimulated, but unresolved. In this sense, the film will appeal more to women than men, more to the old than the young. That said, the film should also appeal to many neutered young men in the Portland metro area.