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Review: Mirren and Sutherland on road trip in The Leisure Seeker

PUBLISHED: 08:54 20 April 2018

Donald Sutherland as John Spencer and Helen Mirren as Ella Spencer in The Leisure Seeker. Photo: Universal Pictures/McFadden

Donald Sutherland as John Spencer and Helen Mirren as Ella Spencer in The Leisure Seeker. Photo: Universal Pictures/McFadden

Archant

More than 25 years after they last shared the big screen Helen Mirren and Donald Sutherland reunite for this bittersweet comical final road trip of a couple that turns into a journey of self-discovery.

Helen Mirren as Ella Spencer in The Leisure Seeker. Photo: Universal Pictures/McFaddenHelen Mirren as Ella Spencer in The Leisure Seeker. Photo: Universal Pictures/McFadden

The Leisure Seeker (15)

***

Yes, it will be pronounced Lee Shure, and will be so pronounced by Dame Helen Mirren, in a southern accent no less.

There’s no avoiding it. Said ‘Lee Shure’ seeker is the name of a camper van that elderly married couple Ella (Mirren) and John (Donald Sutherland) take off in to make one last road trip.

Helen Mirren as Ella Spencer and Donald Sutherland as John Spencer in The Leisure Seeker. Photo: Universal Pictures/McFaddenHelen Mirren as Ella Spencer and Donald Sutherland as John Spencer in The Leisure Seeker. Photo: Universal Pictures/McFadden

As the film started, I wondered if I had gone to the wrong place. The trailers had led me to expect a wacky old couple acting outrageous and going on a zany, yet heartwarming adventure: the kind of film that is a little bit crazy, a little bit touching and almost entirely awful.

The credits for Paolo Virzi’s film though began with a long, long list of Italian and European production companies and tax breaks that had clubbed together to make it, as well as noting that it had been entered in the Biennale de Venezia. Which you didn’t get at the start of Last Vegas.

Try as they might on their cross-country adventure, Ella and John can’t outrun the reality of their situation. John suffers from extremememory loss, Ella has an illness that I don’t think will be spoiling anything by revealing it to be a form of cancer.

They get into to all the kind of scrapes that oldies do in this kind of romp – nearly crashing the van, him driving off forgetfully while she is still at the gas station, outwitting would be muggers.

But they remain recognisably elderly. He wets the bed and veers from being mentally coherent to not recognising his own wife within a few seconds.

There something very painful in Ella’s rapid switches between affection and contempt at John, that fifty plus years of happiness isn’t enough to stop her from raging at him.

I’m glad this isn’t the film the trailer suggested, but I was left quite unprepared for how bleak it was. You get the spoonful of sugar, but there’s a lot of medicine to go down.

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