Mrs Caldicot's Cabbage War Review

After a lifetime as a downtrodden housewife, Thelma Caldicot (Pauline Collins) suddenly finds herself a widow, but her newfound freedom and sense of herself doesn’t last long as her son (Peter Capaldi) and his wife (Anna Wilson-Jones) manage to railroad her into the Twilight Years Rest Home. There she finds herself under the authority of manager Mr Hawksmoor (John Alderton) and a strict matron (Isla Blair). Appalled at the conditions that she and her fellow inmates are subjected to, and slowly becoming aware that her son and his wife have other reasons for moving her out of her house, she decides it is time to act.

With Pauline Collins as a put-upon housewife, Mrs Caldicot’s Cabbage War's most obvious antecedent is of course Shirley Valentine, but the superficial similarities at the start of the film soon vanish as the film finds its own path and direction. Similarities to One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest also persist – the delinquent, criminal and outcast inmates of that film replaced by society's other social misfits - the elderly. But Thelma Caldicot is no Randall P McMurphy. She doesn't have a grudge against society or authority and doesn’t want confrontation – she has spent a lifetime avoiding it with her domineering husband – but only acts when she is forced into standing up for herself. She's been walked-over before and she's not going to allow it to happen again. It’s a nice touch and credit must go to director Ian Sharp and screenwriter Malcolm Stone for sensitive handling of Vernon Coleman’s book. Characters remain well-rounded - their behaviour and actions consistent with their motivations.

A major factor in the success of the film is down some fine performances from the cast. Pauline Collins never feels the need to play up her character, either for laughs or for sympathy. Her confusion when faced with her husbands death after a lifetime of being unable to give expression to her own personality is shown in a simmering resentment that occasionally breaks to the surface in her actions. Peter Capaldi as her son Derek, offers a refreshing alternative to the usual unsympathetic son. It’s not that he doesn’t care about his mother, but he is keen to please those other more immediate authority figures, his wife and his boss, and he lets his own petty career ambitions blind him to anything else. It's a character that could be easily over-played, but Capaldi knows exactly how far to take Derek. The same careful attention to character and performance is evident right down to the most minor role and a cast of familiar old faces and extremely capable actors.

Mrs Caldicot’s Cabbage War works where many similar British films fail – it doesn’t stretch the plot too far into improbability and it avoids the pitfalls of allowing maudlin sentimentality and tweeness to creep into the subject. This faithful treatment of the subject keeps the film within the bounds of realism, its gentle satire providing quite a few moments of fun as it raises issues over the treatment of the elderly in a society where business concerns for maximum profit from minimum investment take precedence to care for the sick and elderly.

For the most part, the anamorphic 1.85:1 picture is quite good with fair levels of detail, strong warm colours and a good contrast balance. There are great deal of compression artefacts and moderate levels of grain which are particularly noticeable at the start of the film. But these do become less evident as the film goes along. It’s not a great picture by any means and there are plenty of faults if you look for them, but it is more than adequate for the material, so I haven’t been too harsh on the scoring here. The DVD comes with a Dolby Digital 2.0 soundtrack and is clear and bright. An Australian DVD edition of the film has a 5.1 soundtrack, but I can’t see any advantage of surround sound in a film like this. There are no extra features on this DVD release at all.

Mrs Caldicot’s Cabbage War received a limited theatrical release earlier this year and was poorly received by the British press. It may not be until it reaches the more appropriate medium of the television screen that it finds a more the appreciative audience it will undoubtedly acquire. The quality of the DVD isn’t the greatest, but it allows a good film to be seen again by those who missed it first time around. Amusing, charming and often very funny, this is an enjoyable little film.

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