What more can be said about Peter O'Toole's career? Not a lot. The legendary actor has appeared in many great roles and many great films. Yes, even a number of flops, but every great director and actor has had their share. Every single one, even Hitchcock, my hero. But when he is 'on', O'Toole is simply unmatched by anyone in his generation. Richard Burton was earlier, Ian McKellan and Anthony Hopkins would come later.
From the mid 60s, when he made an incredible debut in "Lawrence of Arabia" through "What's New Pussycat?", "The Lion In Winter" and up to "My Favorite Year", O'Toole has shown he is equally comfortable in drama, epic, comedy and historical drama. He can play it fast, loose and carefree or he can evoke historical figures with all of the thespian powers he employs, holding his own with Katharine Hepburn, Alec Guiness, Richard Burton and many more.
A few years ago, O'Toole received an honorary Oscar, perhaps the Academy's way of hedging their bets and acknowledging his remarkable career. They may have been a bit hasty. The actor's latest film "Venus" is bound to earn O'Toole a nomination for Best Actor.
O'Toole plays Maurice, an aging actor who now takes bit parts in soap operas, usually as a dying Uncle or Grandfather, to keep a little income coming in. He supports his ex-wife (Vanessa Redgrave) who is ill and still lives in their old, ramshackle, badly in need of repairs home and carries a torch for her husband. One day, his friend, Ian (Leslie Phillips), an aging actor who also carries a torch for Maurice, announces his niece will be coming to live with him, to help with his care and daily life. On Maurice's next visit, he meets the young lady, Jessie (Jodie Whittaker) and becomes entranced with her looks, her coarse manner, and her unvarnished view of the world. He also learns Ian can't stand her and feels invaded. Maurice happily sets about coming up with ways to get her out of the house, so he can enjoy her company.
"Venus" is a fun film to watch because we get to see O'Toole do what he does best. The role isn't a stretch; clearly written to provide a showcase for his abilities, Maurice could easily be O'Toole if the actor were less well-known and had made some bad career choices. O'Toole plays an elderly actor who once played some memorable roles but now spends more time enjoying a good drink. Sounds like a stretch, doesn't it?
Even though his body has aged and he may be a little slower, O'Toole commands our attention from the moment he first appears on screen. This is Maurice's story; his life, his loves, his friends. In telling the story of a short period of his life, we get a capsule of his entire life, we extrapolate the events we witness and fill in the rest of his life.
It is a bravura performance and a fitting crown for his remarkable career.
Writer Hanif Kureishi ("My Beautiful Launderette") and director Roger Michell ("Notting Hill") have done a good job of crafting a showcase for O'Toole's skill. Once the story gets going, they simply get out of the way, which is a good thing. The story is simple, uncomplicated and flows along pleasantly. If anything, this uncomplicated nature makes the film resemble a BBC presentation. It seems a little small, a little low budget, as though they were hedging their bets. In case the film didn't turn out as well, they could always just show it on the BBC and BBC America and recoup some of their investment. But because it did work, the project earned a theatrical release.
"Venus" presents an example of one of our best actors showing us why he has earned a lifetime of acclaim. It is a film worthy of your time and attention. Peter O'Toole demands your time and attention.