Don’t be put off by the Stuffy Masterpiece Theater trappings of this Twenties period piece. The exquisitely wrought tale of four British women of different backgrounds who rent a villa in Portofino, Italy, is delivered with a witty feminist twist by director Mike Newell (Dance With a Stranger) and an outstanding cast.
Poor Rose Arbuthnot, luminously played by Miranda Richardson – the murderous protagonist of Newell’s Dance – is too circumspect to confront her romance-novelist husband, Frederick (Jim Broadbent), about his cheating. But she does work up the courage to organize an April in Italy with her friend Lottie Wilkins (Josie Lawrence). Men, including Lottie’s domineering husband, Mellersh (Alfred Molina), are not invited. Joining this low-key Thelma and Louise to share expenses are the glamorous Lady Caroline (Polly Walker), a social butterfly on leave from sex, and the sixtyish Mrs. Fisher (Joan Plowright), a widow whose acid tongue can’t hide her loneliness.
The sensual bloom of the Italian countryside, gracefully evoked by cinematographer Rex Maidment, loosens inhibitions and creates a strong bond among the women. Peter Baines, who adapted Elizabeth Von Arnim’s 1922 novel, has a knack for showing the strength women derive from each other. Though all the performances are beautifully realized, Walker is a stunning standout.
Eventually Frederick and Mellersh (done to a high-comic turn by Molina) intrude on this female Eden. Visiting, too, is George Briggs (Michael Kitchen), the owner of the villa, whose fervor for Rose instigates a romantic crisis. Enchanted April is modest but not insubstantial. It’s a jewel of a movie that brims with the pleasures of the unexpected.