In the age of The X Factor, and The Voice we are used to seeing the people who are convinced that they can sing however when they open their mouths they are tone deaf. Thanks to Stephen Frear’s new movie Florence Foster Jenkins we discover that this is not a new phenomenon, and in process has directed a wonderfully warm and heartfelt movie.
Florence Foster Jenkins, which opens in UK cinemas on May 6, tells the true story of Foster Jenkins, played beautifully by Meryl Streep, who was a New York heiress whose first true love was music. She hoped to be a concert pianist however thanks to the actions of her first husband this dream failed and after that she became a voracious patron of the arts and founded The Verdi Club. With the help of her current husband, St Clair Bayfield, played with warmth by Hugh Grant, Lady Florence as she was known to her fans decides to hire New York’s Carnegie Hall for one night in 1944 in order to showcase what she believed was her beautiful voice.
There turns out to be one small flaw in Lady Florence’s plan; she is totally and completely tone deaf. Bayfield recruits pianist Cosmé McMoon (played by The Big Bang Theory star Simon Helberg) to aid Lady Florence in her quest to share her “gift” with New York City.
Lady Florence is not only battling against her critics, one of whom dubbed her “the world’s worst singer”, she is also battling against her ill health which was caused by the actions of her first husband and the illness robbed her of so much including her chance to have a family with Bayfield. Due to her ill health her marriage to Bayfield first seemed a little strange as it is shown that Bayfield has a complete second life with Kathleen Weatherley Bayfield (played by Rebecca Ferguson). However when he is forced to choose between Kathleen and Lady Florence he unequivocally choses Lady Florence and is with her right until the end of her life. McMoon becomes part of the strange little family Lady Florence creates for herself; any misgivings he may have over Lady Florence wanting to perform in front of an audience full of military personnel is only coming from a place of love for his new benefactor. One of the most touching scenes between the pair of them for me was when Lady Florence visits McMoon at his apartment and he helps Lady Florence play the piano again.
Florence Foster Jenkins takes the audience through a gambit of emotions, from roaring out loud with laughter, to crying with and for Lady Florence; and it is a gorgeous set piece showing the audience a New York which was just trying to survive World War II and how the human condition can bring strength and hope to others. Streep’s performance in the eponymous role is the lynchpin of the movie, and it is hard to think of another actress who could have played Lady Florence in this way.
To whet your appetite for Lady Florence check out the behind the scenes featurette below:
Florence Foster Jenkins opens in UK cinemas on May 6 and will hit US cinemas on August 12