'The Carer': Palm Springs Review

The Carer Still - H 2016
Courtesy of Hopscotch Films

The Carer Still - H 2016

Brian Cox rages vigorously against the dying of the light.

Brian Cox plays an ailing Shakespearean actor in this U.K.-Hungary co-production.

Given the audience demographics of the Palm Springs Film Festival, it is not surprising that a number of films screened there deal with the travails of elderly people coping with illness and loss. One of the most appealing of this year's bunch, The Carer, made by Hungarian director Janos Edelenyi, is mainly notable as a showcase for Brian Cox, who plays a character considerably less vital than the actor himself. 

Sir Michael Gifford (Cox) is a retired Shakespearean actor suffering from a form of Parkinson’s that has left him flailing and cantankerous at his country estate. He has alienated a host of caregivers, but his daughter forces a new companion on him, a Hungarian refugee who has acting aspirations of her own. It’s not hard to predict that a friendship will develop between the newcomer and the curmudgeon, a bond that threatens some of Sir Michael’s existing relationships but ultimately proves beneficial for all parties.

This movie isn’t going to win any prizes for originality, but it’s pleasantly realized. Three writers, including the late Gilbert Adair, have etched the characters skillfully. The country estate is lovingly rendered by Edelenyi, cinematographer Tibor Mathe and the rest of the crew. For the most part, however, the charm of the film comes from the performances.

Emilia Fox as Sir Michael’s strong-willed daughter manages to be imperious without ever turning outright hateful. Anna Chancellor is compelling as the housekeeper who has her own romantic history with Michael. Coco Konig makes her film debut as new arrival Dorottya and gives a low-key but winning performance.

Of course the film mainly rests on Cox’s shoulders, and he has one of his best roles as the maddeningly self-absorbed but shrewdly observant actor. His rage at the deterioration of his body is convincingly rendered, and yet his mental faculties remain sharp as ever. Cox encourages us to care about the character without ever softening his portrayal. The final scene, in which Michael gives a kind of valedictory speech at a critics’ awards dinner (more glitzy than most critics’ awards shows that I have attended), was apparently written in part by Cox himself, and it serves as a strong capper to a slight but likeable tribute to an aging lion of the theater.

Cast: Brian Cox, Coco Konig, Anna Chancellor, Emilia Fox, Karl Johnson, Andrew Havill.

Director: Janos Edelenyi

Screenwriters: Gilbert Adair, Janos Edelenyi, Tom Kinninmont

Producers: Jozsef Berger, Steve Bowden, Charlotte Wontner

Executive producers: John Archer, Judith Csernai, Felix Gill, Simon Lewis

Cinematographer: Tibor Mathe

Costume designer: Sarah Tapscott

Editor: Adam Recht

Music: Atti Pacsay

Not rated, 88 minutes