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PALM SPRINGS—Stephen Dillane has been a mainstay of British film, theater, and TV for many years. He’s best known for his roles as Leonard Woolf opposite Nicole Kidman in The Hours and as Thomas Jefferson in the acclaimed miniseries, John Adams. He also has a small but important part in Zero Dark Thirty. But Dillane has probably never had a more appealing showcase than his starring role in Papadopoulos & Sons, which premiered at the Palm Springs International Film Festival this week.
Whereas many other film festivals like to highlight cutting-edge, esoteric fare, Palm Springs is not above including a number of crowd-pleasing comedies in its programming mix. Last year the French Canadian film Starbuck (which is scheduled for release this spring) was one of the audience favorites at the festival, and this year Papadopoulos will surely turn up on the Best of the Fest program on the festival’s final day. It’s a predictable comedy that may not enchant critics but should tickle audiences. Dillane’s performance makes it something special.
Dillane plays Harry Papadopoulous, a Greek immigrant and widower who parlayed a small fish-and-chips shop into a major international corporation. Harry has long since left the kitchen for the executive boardroom, but when he overreaches during the financial crisis, his assets are seized, and the only property he has left is the decaying shop in an ethnically mixed section of London. But he cannot sell the shop without the consent of his estranged brother Spyros (Georges Corraface). Eventually the two brothers and Harry’s three children have to put aside their differences. They decide to remodel and re-open the shop, which turns out to have a therapeutic impact on all of their lives.
Little of what happens from that point on will surprise viewers who have seen a movie or two. As soon as an attractive blond business adviser enters the picture, you can tell that Harry’s love life is about to improve. Yet despite the formulaic plotting, the picture turns out to be tasty and inviting. This is partly because of witty touches in the script by writer-director Marcus Markou, and mainly because of a collection of vibrant performances. Dillane may be playing the stock character of a buttoned-down businessman, but nothing about his performance is stale. Flickers of intelligence and compassion always leaven his rigidity. Even when he performs the inevitable Greek dance at the movie’s climax, Dillane provides his own distinctive variation on the old Zorba routine.
Corraface also explodes stereotype as the lusty, irresponsible brother. The three actors playing Harry’s children—including Dillane’s own son Frank—acquit themselves skillfully. Veteran actress Selina Cadell exudes flinty wisdom as the family housekeeper.
As the film keeps playing predictable notes, it loses some of its fizz. But audiences won’t be sorry they spent time with the Papadopoulos family, and they won’t forget Dillane’s expertly modulated performance.
Venue: Palm Springs International Film Festival.
Cast: Stephen Dillane, Georges Corraface, Georgia Groome, Selina Cadell, Ed Stoppard, Cosima Shaw, Frank Dillane.
Director-screeenwriter: Marcus Markou.
Producer: Sara Butler.
Executive producers: Marcus Markou, Andrew Markou.
Director of photography: James Friend.
Production designers: Martin Christopher, Adam A. Makin.
Music: Stephen Warbeck.
Costume designer: Robert Lever.
Editor: Sebastian Morrison.
No rating, 105 minutes.
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