Director, Alice Troughton; Screenwriter, Alex MacKeith (2023)
‘The Lesson’ should be good. It has lots of literary talk, Richard E Grant demonstrating his special scenery-chewing skills, Julie Deply mooching about, a big moody house with a pond. Note the pond. Grant is J M Sinclair, a famous novelist of the bad-tempered, autocratic variety. Julie Deply is Helene, his long-suffering wife who has some art curator job which is glamorous and doesn’t require any work, so she mooches about. Their needs and those of their miserable, lazy but talented son Bertie (Stephen McMillan) are tended to by the butler/cook and all knowing factotum Ellis (Crispin Letts). Liam (Daryl McCormack) drops his post graduate studies at Oxford to become a live-in tutor, assisting Bertie in his preparation for the Oxford entry examination. Naturally J M has writer’s block and can’t finish his latest book. Naturally Liam is writing his first book. J M works on a computer and Liam writes in longhand – Note that. Hovering over all is the ghost of Felix, the Sinclair’s elder son who committed suicide. The hints as to where this is all going are dropped like hammers in the hands of careless tradies. J M’s pronouncements right at the beginning about writers’ inspiration hit the viewer on the head like a hammer. The name of his novel is a really heavy hammer. Liam’s photographic memory for text looks suspiciously like a weighty item with which to beat tired plots.
The story galumphs along along a well-worn path. We have all been on this path before. Well, all of us but these characters. Well-read as they are, they don’t seem to see the hammer-shaped mountain of clichés and contrivances in front of them. Tell the agency that you didn’t take the gig after all and enter into a private agreement with the Sinclairs? Brilliant idea, Liam. Agree to critique Sinclair’s writing if he’ll critique yours? What could possibly go wrong, Liam? The ‘twist,’ when it finally meanders into sight, is no surprise, it’s only a slight bend after all and the hammers have flattened it.
The actors are all marvellous but they have little to do. The house and its grounds do most of it for them. Peering into and out of windows is important, as is leaning on the Giverny-style bridge. Sipping soup elegantly in the candle-lit dining room is a must. (The power’s gone out. ‘Bang!’ Did someone drop a hammer on the fuse box?)
So, it should be good, but it’s not. Don’t bother to go to see it. Let this be a lesson to you. Stay at home where you are safe from falling hammers. Read a decent novel instead.