Peter O'Toole initially demurred when the Academy offered to give him an honorary Oscar in 2003, writing back he was ''still in the game, and might win the lovely bugger outright.'' He did relent, allowing Hollywood a chance to both thank him and apologize for not having given him a real one despite seven nominations between 1963 (Lawrence of Arabia) and 1983 (My Favorite Year). One couldn't help but think the Academy was also saying goodbye.
Ha. Along came Venus, the story of a compassionate and passionate thespian and his not strictly platonic relationship with a woman young enough to be his granddaughter (Jodie Whittaker). ''As a study of humans cavorting with a finite limit, the script is superb,'' O'Toole, 74, has said, adding of his casting: ''No one better for a dirty old man who falls for a sluttish young woman.''
O'Toole invests the role of Maurice Russell with great vulnerability. He may look like a fun-house version of the incredibly handsome young man who played Lawrence, but the acting chops have never been better. It's worth the price of admission just to see him slap himself in the morning and shout, ''Come on, old man.''
It's a heroic turn in another way. On a break from filming, O'Toole broke his hip and had to have an operation. Three weeks later, he returned to the set. And because Venus had a small budget, he rested between scenes not in a trailer but in a survival tent with a portable heater and folding chair. There would be a certain irony should O'Toole finally win an Oscar for a film in which his character wins over one last woman. But if his name is called, it won't simply be out of sympathy. This time, he'll have earned it.