Acorn Media // 1997 // 198 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Appellate Judge James A. Stewart (Retired) // February 24th, 2009
"I can handle violent lowlifes. I mean, I was married to one." -- Maggie Sheridan
It had to happen. As the world discovered that folks like Mick Jagger and Paul McCartney age like the rest of us, someone had to blend Sixties sounds into the cozy mystery.
The heroine of Painted Lady is Maggie Sheridan (Helen Mirren, The Queen), a former singer who overcame a drug addiction with the help of friend Sebastian Sheffield (Iain Glen, Kingdom of Heaven) and his father, Sir Charles. She lives in a cottage at the Sheffield estate.
The title of this British mystery could refer to Maggie, especially when she gets a makeover to go undercover, but the actual painted lady is "Judith Slaying Holofernes," a painting stolen from the Sheffield estate during a robbery which leaves Sir Charles dead.
The trail leads to a Dublin mobster who wants to collect a sixty thousand pound debt from Sebastian. Maggie gets out her old passport and poses as a member of the Polish aristocracy. Her investigation leads her to London and New York, and will result in tragedy. It will also lead her to romance, or at least sex, with a mysterious art dealer (Franco Nero, Camelot).
Painted Lady's plot is fairly straightforward, even with a twist that propels the last hour. Even so, there's a constant air of menace, from the wine spilt to resemble a pool of blood early on to the real blood that splatters on Maggie as she witnesses a murder. Yeah, there's some real violence here, although you might be lulled by the false alarms.
The story becomes one of a still-troubled woman staying steady through an unfamiliar, frightening situation to do what she believes is right. Helen Mirren's transformation from shabby singer with a nose ring to cultured lady is a bit too easy, but she's fascinating to watch as Maggie pursues her investigation. The gradual change from the scared woman who is cool in dealing with an unstable art thief -- until he turns violent -- to the calculating woman who plots revenge in the final reel is convincing, thanks to Mirren's performance.
Although you'll hear lots of Sixties-ish music in the background, the music angle turns out to be a McGuffin to hook viewers who wouldn't be caught dead watching Miss Marple. As soon as she loses that nose ring, Maggie Sheridan fits well into the long tradition of old-fashioned amateur sleuths.
Incidentally, the text bio of Helen Mirren notes that the actress has Russian aristocracy in her own lineage.
I have no complaints with the picture, although I did notice a hint of grain in night scenes. The sound levels varied a bit thanks to the loud music, though.
Painted Lady is a must see for Mirren's fans. It's worth a look for anyone who likes British mysteries, particularly those with strong characters, and doesn't mind bloodshed or bedroom scenes.
Review content copyright © 2009 James A. Stewart; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2015 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
Studio: Acorn Media
* Full Frame
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
* English (SDH)
Running Time: 198 Minutes
Release Year: 1997
MPAA Rating: Not Rated