”I haven’t yet found much cruelty in growing old,” Peter O’Toole says in a making-of featurette. ”The disadvantages, the infirmities, they will come, but not yet.” It’s reassuring to hear that mortality has tread gently on the legendary actor, now 74 — especially considering how frail he appears in Venus. O’Toole stars as Maurice, a former titan of the London stage who now spends his days comparing ailments with his grumpy-old-man friend Ian (Leslie Phillips), undergoing rectal exams for his prostate issues, and cursing his leaky catheter. But age hasn’t dulled this lothario’s libido. Still every bit a ”scientist of the female heart,” Maurice is drawn to Ian’s barely adult caretaker, Jessie (Jodie Whittaker, in a promising debut), a coarse, uneducated Northerner whom he endeavors to both educate and seduce. She becomes his goddess of love, even if she never allows him to go further than nuzzling her neck.
O’Toole, in the role that earned him his eighth Oscar nod, still commands the screen, those famous blue eyes radiating wisdom and mischief. His scenes with Vanessa Redgrave, who plays his weary ex-wife, are particularly divine. The problem with the movie, directed by Roger Michell (Notting Hill), is that it portrays Maurice’s lusty tendencies as quaint, and fails to rise above the tired trope of a dirty old man rejuvenated by a feisty young woman. No matter how many times Michell and producer Kevin Loader try to convince us otherwise in their commentary, Venus is built on a problematic dynamic. B-