Film Review: Florence Foster Jenkins

23 December 2020

By Lauren E. White


Yes, yes, yes – I am yet again coming to you with a review of a film Hugh Grant is in. Florence Foster Jenkins, a 2016 Stephen Frears film, is based on the true story of the eponymous New York socialite singer (Meryl Streep) and her devoted husband St. Clair Bayfield. It’s a comedy with a dark touch, and worth a watch if you’re after something a little different.

Set in the 1940s, the film centres around Foster Jenkins attempting to become a renowned opera singer. There’s a slight hitch: she’s a terrible one. Her husband, played marvellously by Hugh Grant, encourages and believes in his wife, but censors any bad press or opinions on her singing from her. Turns out, though, that he’s not just a simple, bumbling-devoted-husband-character – he does have depth (i.e. another woman and an arrangement with Mrs Foster Jenkins).

The depth of St. Clair’s character shows off Hugh Grant’s range as an actor. In fact, as he’s aged, his work has become much more high calibre. He is able to show that he’s more than a floppy-haired romantic in Notting Hill, and indeed more than the sleazy Daniel Cleaver in Bridget Jones.

And while we’re on the subject of range, Meryl Streep has it in abundance. Of course we know she can be funny – we’ve seen her in Mamma Mia! after all – but she has really great comedic timing in Florence Foster Jenkins, and is immediately believable in the title role. How she sings the way she does without laughing, I don’t know. But what I do know is that Streep’s performance in this film is something akin to her portrayal of Thatcher in The Iron Lady. There are two sides to both characters, with Florence’s vulnerability and tragic illness contrasting her larger-than-life stage presence. Her portrayal of Thatcher showed her as the formidable PM, and also as an old lady dying of dementia.

Recommended Reading: Film Review: The Iron Lady

Florence Foster Jenkins is a bit of a feel-good film, even if you do shed a couple of tears by the end. It is indeed funny, and Hugh Grant helps enormously with that. As does Florence’s pianist Cosme McMoon, played by Simon Helberg, who adds to the touching nature of the film, as well as the comedy. He’s the only one who raises the slight issue of her tone-deaf singing.

This film was perfectly enjoyable with just the right hint of tragedy, and I’d certainly recommend putting it on the telly if you’re after something a bit different.

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