The action in Venus gets rolling when the aging actor Maurice (Peter O'Toole) learns that he needs a prostate operation.
Talk about an inconvenient truth. He's told that the most likely side effects of the procedure are incontinence and impotence - a sad way station on what seems to be the way out, but certainly not as bad as things could have been for a performer who is cast most often in this phase of his career as a corpse.
The surprise here is that there is life after impotence. There are even film roles, and in this case, there's libido, thanks to a skanky pouting twenty year-old, Jessie (Jodie Whittaker), who comes to London from a troubled life in the North to live with Maurice and another feeble actor, her uncle Ian (Leslie Phillips). She's the kind of nasty kid that even her mother doesn't love; that's why her family has turned her out of their own home. For those of you who have been reading the New York Post, she doesn't have anything on our recent Miss USA, Tara Connor, who gets my vote for this role over the antediluvian Anna Nicole Smith in what an American remake of Venus. Skanky or not, Jessie turns the aged Maurice priapic.
O'Toole, at 74, couldn't have had a better-timed comeback, or a part more suited to the leer of a matinee idol limping into the sunset. It's his movie. He's on camera more here than in any of his previous films. O'Toole broke his hip during the holiday break in mid-shoot, and a heated tent was a perk where he took refuge, even on the London streets, once the cameras stopped, yet he still completed the film. Could it have been that he was convinced he'd never get another script like this one? It couldn't have been that he needed the money, since Venus doesn't look like it needed much of a budget.
The screenplay for Venus is written by Hanif Kureishi, his second collaboration with director Roger Michell (after The Mother, another look at love between the old and the young, in which Daniel Craig plays a carpenter who gets involved with a newly-widowed grandmother who lacks emotional contact with her nouveau riche daughter). Both Kureishi and Michell recently turned 50, hence the new interest in old age.
Thanks to Kureishi 's lean script, with lots of space between zinger lines for nuances in the performances, all eyes are on O'Toole as the dissipated old actor whose instincts are refreshed by the sullen unschooled girl. (Kureishi admits to the obvious point that there is a bit of Pygmalion here, a bit of Educating Rita. What writer dares to measure himself against George Bernard Shaw?) Maurice takes the girl under his wing - exposing her to theater and literature and, he hopes, eventually, to himself. The question throughout the film is, "What can an impotent man hope to achieve in this kind of courtship?" From what we can tell, everyone but the impotent man is asking the question.