Picks and Pans Review: Lily in Love

updated 05/06/1985 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 05/06/1985 AT 01:00 AM EDT

Prince Charles, talk to your mother at once. It's time Maggie Smith—that consummate actress who lends her grace, beauty and delicious wit to this effervescent romantic comedy—was dubbed a Dame. What more does Smith have to prove to join the likes of Peggy Ashcroft and Wendy Hiller in the loftier ranks of the Order of the British Empire? Onstage she's played the classics from Shakespeare to Ibsen. She's won two Academy Awards (The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie, California Suite). She's just collected the British Oscar for A Private Function. She's won the British Tony for The Way of the World. Charles, is your mum paying attention? Have her take a break from the pomp and circumstance to catch Lily in Love. Smith is cast as a playwright whose actor husband, devilishly well played by Christopher Plummer, is an aging ham of the John Barrymore school. Smith doesn't want him in her new movie (the part calls for a young, handsome European), so Plummer dons a wig, fakes an accent and transforms himself into an Italian aristocrat. Only the couple's manager, snappily done by Broadway lyricist Adolph Green, is in on the secret. That's the plot, loosely based on Ferenc Molnar's play The Guardsman, which the Lunts filmed in 1931. The fun comes in watching Plummer try to seduce his wife into an affair with another man (himself as the Italian rake) and then hate her for succumbing. Plummer's shameless overacting is a delight, but Smith is the film's glory. Her Lily is a woman who aches for romance. How long can she be foiled by her husband's disguise? Onstage such illusions are easier to sustain. In this film, clumsily directed by Hungarian Karoly (Love) Makk, the harsh close-ups of Plummer's makeup quickly pull the wool from the audience's eyes, if not Lily's. But technical mishaps and crude plotting can't daunt Maggie Smith, She brings heart and conscience to her role, turning a film soufflé into something more substantial. There's a touch of magic about this kind of acting. Dame Maggie Smith. Sounds right, doesn't it? (PG-13)

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