“People may say I can’t sing, but no one can ever say I didn’t sing”
Stephen Frears' (High Fidelity, The Queen, Philomena) latest film is an inspiring true story of the life and times of American singing siren Florence Foster Jenkins, set in the post-war years of the late 1940s when music mattered more than ever. The story follows the trials and tribulations of the New York heiress as she pursues her dreams of becoming a great singer despite the fact that she has not been blessed with the talents to do so.
Award-winner Meryl Streep pays homage to this remarkable woman whose whole life was dedicated to the art of music; once you get to know this woman you truly understand the fine line she walked between sanity and delusion. Florence Foster Jenkins embodied music, and the euphoric feeling she possessed when singing outweighed any form of logic.
This story also follows the lives of those who surrounded her and kept her safe from the mockery of others. Her husband St Clair Bayfield (played by the ever so charming Hugh Grant) was forever her knight in shining armour. In the relationship that develops between the course of 36 years, there is no question of just how much he loves her and the lengths he will go to in order to keep her safe from the critics that wish to “open her eyes” to the truth.
After attending a performance of renowned soprano Lily Pons at Carnegie hall, Florence becomes inspired to start singing again by taking lessons. Enter Cosme McMoon (The Big Bang Theory’s Simon Helberg) a young softly spoken pianist. What follows is a hilarious scene as the musician is introduced to the flamboyant Florence - her performance falls nothing short of what could be described as an exorcism of the soul. As Cosme watches on with a horrified expression (that you know is mirroring that of the audience), he is not quite sure of what to make of this display, questioning with knowing looks to those around if this is in fact real or not.
Florence Foster Jenkins in 1944 went out to play one of the most historic performances in musical history, selling out quicker than Sinatra and performing in front of such greats as Cole Porter. Even here cloaked in elaborate costumes there is nowhere for Florence to hide and its either swim with the fishes or soar with the angels.
Earlier this month French film director Xavier Giannoli released a film called Marguerite whose main character was also based on the life of the late diva. You may ask, why on earth is everyone obsessed with telling the tale of this woman who has the extraordinary gift of murdering music? It's what Florence symbolises that’s so inspiring about her. It’s her will to go against all odds and achieve the unachievable, to dream big and to find passion in something that means more to her than air itself. So much of her music career was muffled with the sounds of those who judged and mocked her, but all she could ever hear was the applauding. Her story is heartbreaking, triumphant and joyful to watch.
Florence Foster Jenkins is in cinemas from today.