Aside from its dynamic and moving story, 'Venus' is also a powerful critique of the clichés of male old age. By folding two stereotypes into one complex character - the kindly, classy elderly gent and the dirty old man - it exposes the hollowness of both, demonstrating how they obscure rather than reveal truth. The central character in question is Maurice, an ageing actor played with a master's élan by Peter O'Toole. If the mark of a great performance is to make behaviour we usually think of as inexcusable or repellent seem sympathetic, than O'Toole's is out of the very top drawer.

Opposite him is Jodie Whittaker as Jessie/Venus, a young, beer-drinking, clubbing-obsessed 'chav'. Based on the nude at the centre of the Velazquez painting 'Venus At Her Mirror' (aka the 'Rokeby Venus'), shown during the film and visually referenced several times, she is beautiful of body but, as Maurice cruelly points out, rather plain of face. As with her mythic namesake she is also a sower of discord.

While Maurice attempts to cajole physical affection - desiring to hold hands or to be allowed smell Jessie's hair, she exploits his desire, attempting to winkle money or, occasionally, attention from him. As the relationship develops there is a shift from a purely physical and material beginning to something more genuine. This isn't to suggest that Jessie and Maurice's relationship progresses in a dull or predictable manner. In fact it manages to be much more revealing of the true nature of human relationships than most of the insipid love affairs between untouchable Hollywood gods and goddesses often presented in film.

'Venus' also abounds in enjoyable sub-themes and plots. It is thought-provoking on the subject of the body, art and aesthetics, popular culture versus 'high' culture, and is shot through with tremendous lines and memorable individual scenes. Maurice's cantankerous cavorting with his ageing actor friends, including Ian (Phillips), Jessie's grand-uncle, and the endgame of his relationship with his ex-wife (Redgrave) are both tellingly rendered.  

Also carried off with aplomb are the frequent references to Shakespearean drama. It is fitting given that O'Toole has spoken of his regret at never having played King Lear that he finally gets a chance of sorts here. His diminished power, hinting at a former majesty, is certainly closer to Lear than any other major Shakespearean part and the great Shakespearean player would have made a splendid job of the role. "To be, or not to be", also makes an appearance and, appropriately, we see O'Toole literally, "take arms against a sea of troubles; and by opposing end them" at the film's close.

Ultimately, 'Venus' is a splendid, defiantly British film that comes closer to revealing the reality of human interactions than any film for ages, while at the same time being splendidly enjoyable. Highly recommended.

Brendan Cole