Ben Marshall (Rupert Grint) is a taciturn teenage boy, seventeen and a half years of age and in the midst of driving lessons; the latest one has not gone well, ending as it has with a minor accident, but Ben's mother Laura (Laura Linney) has faith in him. That's not all she has faith in, as she is a devout Christian married to a man of the cloth, Ben's father Robert (Nicholas Farrell), and possibly having an affair with a junior vicar at their church. Laura has devised a play to pay tribute to the Lord, but the only part available to her son is that of a eucalyptus tree, which he dutifully takes. However, when Ben, looking for a part time job, applies to be the assistant to elderly actress Dame Evie Walton (Julie Walters), the eccentric changes his life forever...
I suppose she would or it wouldn't be much of a story. Although a film about the relationship between an garrulous old woman and a sensitive young man might be expected to have been inspired by Harold and Maude or similar, writer and director Jeremy Brock claimed his experiences as a teenage assistant to Dame Peggy Ashcroft were the starting point for this work. It's little wonder it took so quickly for Driving Lessons to show up on British television so soon after its cinema release, as, swearing apart, it is more suited to the small screen than the big. It's fairly predictable, with its would-be poet hero drawn out of his shell and finding his place in the world out of the shadow of his mother, and gaining the advice from Evie that he failed to secure from his ineffectual father.
Just in case you think that Brock is indulging in a spot of religion bashing with his depiction of the domineering mother, Ben's father is a reasonable type who displays the human face of Christianity. But it's Ben's adventures with Evie that take up the bulk of the action, after scene-setting sequences that mark out his hopeless attempts with the opposite sex and just how delicate his sensibilities are. His first encounter with the Dame opens with her letting fly a stream of expletives, not directed at Ben but at the bush she's trying to prune in her garden, all meant to show what an incorrigible old dear she really is. Walters can play this kind of character in her sleep, but acquits herself much as you'd expect here, persuading the mumbling Ben to take her on a camping trip that turns into an expedition to the Edinburgh Festival, much against his wishes. Of course, he has a great time, losing his virginity to a squeaky voiced P.A. but failing to support Evie when she needs it. All this is fine, and certainly more entertaining than a Harry Potter film, but there's a misty eyed, luvvie-esque air to it all, and Brock doesn't know how to bring events to a satisfying close. Music by Clive Carroll and John Renbourn.
[Tartan's Region 2 DVD has an interview with the two stars, a trailer and an audio commentary with the director. Nice menus, too.]