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Film review: Widow's Peak

Published: Tuesday, June 14 1994 12:00 a.m. MDT

Mia Farrow proves she doesn't need Woody anymore, and Joan Plowright and Natasha Richardson also get to show off their considerable acting skills in "Widow's Peak," a charming, witty film that seems akin to "The Remains of the Day" and "Enchanted April" most of the way but then takes a sharp turn into Agatha Christie territory.

The setting is the small Irish village of Kilshannon during the 1920s, where there is a strange preponderance of wealthy widows. Plowright is the bossy matriarch of the area, plugged into every ounce of gossip and generally meddling in everyone's lives — especially that of her wimpy son (Adrian Dunbar).

Farrow's character, who is not a widow, seems to be the only penniless woman in the bunch. And, oddly, she is pushed around by Plowright more than anyone, taking the subtle abuse quietly and hanging her head as if in perpetual shame.

Her only happiness seems to be provided by the local dentist (Jim Broadbent), who has a crush on her. She enjoys his attention, but their courtship is painfully slow since they are already the subject of local scrutiny.

Things are pretty much the same day to day until a mysterious, American(ized) war widow (Richardson) comes into their midst and upsets things considerably. Dunbar is immediately smitten, while his mother is cordial but, of course, quite curious. She immediately sets about trying to find out who Richardson is and what she's doing there. But most surprising is Farrow's immediate dislike of the woman, as she becomes openly hostile. And Richardson seems to return the hostility.

Something is afoot. Murder has been mentioned in the film's opening moments. And it's apparent that there is more here than meets the eye.

Figuring it out is half the fun. The other half is just enjoying the colorful performances of this delightful ensemble cast.

"Widow's Peak" doesn't have the depth or resonance of the best British films that have come our way in recent years — "The Remains of the Day," "Enchanted April," "Howards End," "Shadowlands," etc. But on its own terms — which might more correctly fit into the PBS "Mystery" category — it is most enjoyable. There is clever dialogue to spare, and more wit than any 10 American movies we've seen lately.

"Widow's Peak" is rated PG for a small ration of violence, profanity and vulgarity.