Emma Thompson is easily the most underrated actress of our time. She is now relegated to playing older nannies type and unsatisfied mothers, yet she is able to make dynamic and interested characters out of poorly written thin character types. During the nineties, she was in her heyday. She directed and starred in an Oscar-winning (and really great) Jane Austen adaptation, she had a successful stage career and she made The Winter Guest with her actress mother.
Frances is a depressed photographer. Elspeth is a doting yet meddling mother. One frigid day in Scotland where the weather is so cold that the ocean has frozen, Elspeth journeys to Frances’ house to cheer her up and get her back to work. Frances’ son, Alex, encounters a young and beautiful woman on his way to work. They play hookie and enjoy a tete-a-tete. Two young boys putz around the town, and talk about boy things while they build fires and find kittens. Two older women hop on a bus to attend a funeral so that they can shop around for what type of funeral they want. Long, interesting conversations ensue.
This film feels very novel like in its structure. There isn’t a strict plot structure and it kind of doesn’t matter. What is exciting about this movie is being able to spend time with these well thought out and great characters. Emma Thompson and her mother, Phyllida Law, shine in their interaction with one another. They feel like mother and daughter mainly because they are. Elspeth (Law) doesn’t want to lose her daughter to depression, Australia or anything else. She needs Frances (Thompson) but can’t quite put that into words. The two young boys talk about boyhood things, but their conversation lends a certain humor and levity to everything they say. The young man and girl want each other so bad, but can’t come together no matter how hard they try. The two older women love to watch funerals but I think the one thing they like most is just being in each other’s company. (It is so unbelievably cute when they lust over a decadent dessert) Being in this beautiful landscape with these beautiful and quaint people is easily the best hour and a half I have spent in a while.