Driving Lessons

UK release date: 8 September 2006

cast list

Julie Walters
Rupert Grint
Laura Linney
Oliver Milburn
Nicholas Farrell
Jacques Kerr

directed by
Jeremy Brock
Screenwriter Jeremy Brock’s directorial debut pairs Hogwarts refugee Rupert Grint with Julie Walters in a coming-of-age tale that’s partly a road movie and partly autobiographical.

Grint, best known as Harry Potter’s sidekick Weasley, plays Ben, a middle-class son of a mild-mannered vicar and overbearing mother growing up quietly in a leafy north London suburb. Seeking a job to earn pocket money, he takes up an offer to assist Evie, a semi-retired, profane wholly eccentric actress (Julie Walters). As her approach to life and bizarre behaviour challenges Ben’s conventional upbringing, what he learns allows Ben to begin to make his own decisions for the first time, and to challenge the conventions that had governed his life.

From reciting Shakespeare in Evie’s garden to travelling to his employer’s ill-starred appearance at the Edinburgh Festival, Ben develops skills in areas he’d not known he’d been interested in, and his feelings for Evie change from bafflement and wariness to loyal affection. Ben’s new outlook on life even lead him to losing his virginity in festival city – though not with Evie!

Smatterings of one-liners – mostly gifted to Walters – and some beautiful landscape cinematography add colour to the mix and, as Ben’s parents, Nicholas Farrell and Laura Linney – with a flawlessly chilly English accent – provide solid character support. It all adds up to little more than an amiable excuse to watch Walters stake her claim to an award or two, but it’s no less pleasant for it.

The character of Evie was supposedly based on Peggy Ashcroft, for whom Brock worked when a teenager, while his depiction of Ben’s home life is both suffocating and enlightening on middle-class suburban English boyhood. A brief lowering of his father’s emotional guard towards the end speaks volumes about the kind of people they are.

The film ambles on until we reach the stage-managed conclusion involving a play in a church hall, pratfalls and farce, which feels like a forced ending for ending’s sake, but Brock otherwise keeps the pace tight. This pleasant, sentimental and unchallenging little film should please TV audiences for some time to come.

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