For his latest film role, in a strange, darkly comedic British film called Venus, screen legend Peter O'Toole might just win that final, dubious honor that has eluded him for his entire four-decade career—an Academy Award. To say that the former Lawrence of Arabia turns in a tantalizing performance, though, is to state the obvious and to sell the man a bit short. It isn't merely a great performance—it's a performance that literally no one else could have given. The thought of someone else filling his shoes here is just as impossible to fathom as the thought of someone else crossing the desert with Omar Sherif all those years ago.
O'Toole's Maurice is an aged actor—a bit frail, but still employable—who has attained some degree of celebrity in his native Britain, thanks to a career of memorable performances on stage and screen. It might sound suspiciously like typecasting, and indeed, it appeals to O'Toole's natural charisma and grace, his mischievous sense of humor and his bona fide movie star glamour. But he's not just playing himself here—the particular brand of mischief that Maurice gets himself into makes this one of the boldest roles O'Toole's ever taken on.
It all starts when Maurice, paying a visit to his old acting buddy Ian (Leslie Phillips, hilariously gruff and cantankerous), discovers that his rickety friend is expecting a long-term houseguest—his niece's daughter, Jessie (Jodie Whittaker, a compelling newcomer). Ian seems to think Jessie is coming to serve as his nurse, and he relishes the prospect of reading Shakespeare with her and enjoying the delicious halibut dinners she is sure to fix him. He even buys a little bell, so as to summon her whenever he's in need.
When Maurice ...1