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Age of Consent (1969)

3 crumblies

Hmmm. Okay.

Ladies – if I were to tell you this is a film set in…possibly Australia, given the accents – starring James Mason in his grizzled old age as a grumpy-charming (60 year-old…) artist striving for creative freshness, and he walks around open-shirted on a sunny island, like Death in Paradise without the murders (or the laughs)…would you be up for it?

Gentlemen  – ditto – plus Helen Mirren acting with glances and skill through what absolutely everyone must have been thinking on this film: her 22-year-old gorgeousness, bra-less sexiness, and resentment of an evil grandma… Would you be up for it?

Old Jack’ll be honest. I knew nothing about this before sneaking into the TV room in a state of arse-based nervousness and Amazon Priming it. And was then deeply self-conscious throughout the thing as old man Mason, artist in search of a muse, found a muse and kept asking her to take her clothes off. Mirren as Cora, said muse, plays up to this in a mix of flatteredness, innocent passions and…look, I’m not sure this whole thing isn’t monumentally creepy. They even keep saying she’s underage and call the film Age of Consent as though Mason is returning to the Lolita well. As it were.

Anyway, Mason’s artist and almost-Australian accent enjoys the sunshine and inspiration of a shapely woman. Said shapely woman, more a girl with implied girly passions of handbags and loving old men, is a weird thing: more than a tad exploited, Mirren is clearly Mirren-in-waiting despite how earnestly the credits insist she was working for the Royal Shakespeare Company in ’69. Don’t get me wrong, this is a country mile off soft-porn, but it’s uncomfortable viewing at this distance. Her Aussie accent is also strange.

So, artist goes to island. Girl bounces about. He sculpts her in sand, the way you do, then moves on to portraits. And then the Aussie caricatures come haring in, a fat policeman and a wildly overplayed nasty grandma. The latter is a gin-loving stick-wielding bitch who steals any cash Cora stashes on the island (which implies Cora isn’t the brightest creature of instinct…). The policeman is…a challenge to believe in. Between them, they generate a dash of plot two hours into the admittedly very pretty film, but it’s caricature overload and a real clash of styles.

And that’s it. There are a few comedy bloopers (one involving knickers), weird editing, and a general air of making-do on location. There may be a stern lesson in there for old men and their foolish, fond old hearts, but as Mirren is asked to stand around naked a couple of times (and, without the wit of Calendar Girls (2003), this reduces to her looking magnificent), this is dealt with by the screeching grandma’s accusations rather than any subtly played guilt on Mason’s part. He is undoubtedly a star; Mirren is undoubtedly one in waiting. But the film doesn’t exactly nudge the old man to be a better person, or have him arrested, the way it might these days.

Which reminds me, there’s a young man who takes a punt at Cora’s affections on a boat. He wouldn’t be able to defend himself against an attempted rape charge in any decade, the prick. Cora, that star-in-waiting again, deals with him in style.

Age of Consent is on Amazon Prime. Give it a go when Death in Paradise runs out.

It’s a bit boring in the middle.

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