26 September 2016

The Roman Spring of Mrs Stone

The Roman Spring of Mrs Stone 2002
  • Director: Robert Allan Ackerman
  • Based on book by Tennessee Williams
  • Cast: Helen Mirren, Olivier Martinez, Anne Bancroft, Rodrigo Santoro, Roger Allam, Brian Dennehy, Suzanne Bertie
  • Personal “oh yeah him/her” reaction, i.e. have seen this actor in:
    • Helen Mirren – The Hundred Foot Journey, Brighton Rock, The Tempest, The Queen, Calendar Girls, Gosford Park, The Pledge, Some Mother’s Son, Prime Suspect, The Madness of King George, Mosquito Coast, Cymbeline, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Ex Calibre, As You Like It, O Lucky Man
    • Anne Bancroft – 84 Charing Cross Road, To Be or Not to Be, The Elephant Man, The Graduate, The Miracle Worker
    • Brian Dennehy - The Exonerated, Romeo & Juliet, The Stars Fell on Henrietta, Presumed Innocent, Silverado, Foul Play, Looking for Mister Goodbar
    • Roger Allam  Endeavour, The Tempest (on stage and DVD), The Book Thief, The Woman in Black, Shakespeare and the Brits, Pirates of the Caribbean On Stranger Tides, Henry IV Parts One and Two, The Queen, V for Vendetta
    • Suzanne Bertie – The Comedy of Errors
  • Why? Helen Mirren
  • Seen: 24 September 2016      

       Tennessee Williams’ works usually film well. I’m not familiar with this novel but the cast is promising.
       Roger Allam as a gay playwright with a heavy Southern accent? Tennessee Williams himself, no doubt. Helen Mirren with an American accent as well. Hm.
       Karen Stone is a celebrated but aging and mediocre Broadway actor doing an ill-advised Juliet. It’s a fiasco and she cancels the tour. She and her ailing husband go to Rome. Her husband dies leaving her a rich retired widow with nothing to do.
       She starts lunching with the Contessa (Bancroft) who introduces her to a series of beautiful young men who beg tearfully for loans for their sick mother etc. She knows they’re lying but gives them the money, which ends up in the Contessa’s hands.
       Mrs Stone falls for one of these beautiful young gigolos and wines and dines him publicly, making a fool of herself. Throughout all this she is followed by a ragged young beggar who looks remarkably like the gigolos.
       It is very hard to care about a rich American widow and a sleazy aristocratic gigolo, their tedious affair and their loss of dignity, of which Mrs Stone is keenly aware. No explanation is ever given for the young beggar.
       It’s an unpleasant film, definitely not Tennessee Williams’ best, nor Helen Mirren’s. And Roger Allam comes nowhere close to his excellent Prospero or DI Thursday. But they do well with the sorry material they’re given.

2 ½ * of 5.  


  1. How fascinating you've seen this one! I have too, several times, but so far I have failed to appreciate it. Visually spectacular and properly steamy, that's about the best I can say about it. Well, Roger Allam's Tennessee-like character is fun, and Anne Bancroft is great (so was she as another old and rich Italian aristocrat in another nearly disastrous adaptation of a favourite literary original, namely Somerset Maugham's "Up at the Villa" with Kristin Scott Thomas and Sean Penn seriously trying, and actually succeeding, to put me to sleep).

    I much prefer the 1961 "Mrs Stone" with Vivien Leigh and Warren Beaty. Now this is visually dated, mostly shot in a studio that can barely pass for Rome, but the script and the acting are way superior, especially from Vivien. And Lotte Lenya plays a Countess even scarier than Bancroft's. Tennessee himself called the movie a "poem" and claimed it was his favourite among all movie adaptations of his works (with me that would be "Streetcar" with Vivien, one of the very, very few movies I consider perfect).

    Tennessee's original novel(la) happens to be a great favourite of mine. Even the 1961 movie is far from doing it justice. Karen Stone is a lot more powerful, and affecting as far I'm concerned, on paper. The mysterious stranger who stalks her in both movies is faithfully copied from the novel, evidently yet another incarnation of Tennessee's obsession with symbols. He can symbolise anything anybody likes. But I love that open ending. What's this guy gonna do? Murder Karen in cold blood? Or become her next lover? If the latter, what kind of lover? Submissive? Abusive? Bringing happiness? Bringing despair? Hmm...

  2. Most interesting comment, Alexander! I can see that the Leigh-Beatty version would be more convincing. I agree that Bancroft was very good but would love to see Lenya in the role. I will have to read the novella though this subject matter actually bores me (sorry). But your comment inspires me to have a more open mind.

    1. I can well understand how the subject matter bores you. In general it bores me too. But that's one of the great virtues of great writers (i.e. personal favourites). They take a commonplace plot and even commonplace people, yet they make of them something much larger and more significant than they look at first glancec.

      In lesser hands "The Roman Spring of Mrs Stone" would have been just ordinary pornography, and that's as boring as they come. But Tennessee turns it into something relevant to all of us, "sentenced to solitary confinement inside our own skins" as he said in one of his plays ("Orpheus Descending", filmed as "The Fugitive Kind" with Marlon Brando in 1960).

      In any case, the novella about Mrs Stone is very short and very readable. Even if you find it a complete dreck, you won't have to waste much time with it.

    2. I think you've convinced me I should read Williams's original :-)