Le Week-End

This provocative but smug dramedy – about a couple on a dirty old weekend – is not your mum’s usual geezer pleaser

Le Week-End
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Director: Roger Michell
Cert: 15A
Genre: Drama
Starring: Jim Broadbent, Lindsay Duncan, Jeff Goldblum, Olly Alexander, Xavier De Guillebon
Running Time: 1 hr 33 mins

A cursory glance at the promotional material for Le Week-End might persuade you that Roger Michell's latest picture is nothing other than a shameless attempt to pick grey pounds from grey pockets. Lovely Jim Broadbent and elegant Lindsay Duncan jet off to Paris for a much-delayed second honeymoon. It's also got crazy old Jeff Goldblum in the cast. This looks like something that your least enlightened maiden aunt might enjoy very much.

Not necessarily. The name to note on the poster is that of Hanif Kureishi. The writer's previous scripts for Michell (The Mother and Venus) revealed a taste for pondering, in explicit detail, the sexual needs of older people. There's certainly some of that here. The scene that finds Broadbent's character falling on his knees while his wife reveals her lower parts is not something you'd expect to find in the average Merchant Ivory film.

Michell and Kureishi don’t patronise. They don’t allow their characters to be cuddly. Every line of dialogue comes entwined with dangerous barbs. It is just a shame that so much of the action seems so forced, and that the film is prepared to deal in so many unconvincing hip gestures. It’s a serious piece of work, but its awfully in love with its own bebop moves.

Le Week-End could be glibly summarised as a senior version of Before Sunset. Broadbent plays a university lecturer named Nick. Duncan is a teacher called Meg. The story begins with them fussing over documents and currency on a commuter train to St Pancras and the Eurostar.


When they eventually arrive in Paris, they discover that the small hotel they visited decades ago has gone downhill. Nagged something rotten by Meg, Nick is persuaded to book a suite in a luxury establishment (rooms where Tony Blair once stayed, apparently).

Things go well. Then they go badly. Every conversation somehow strays into niggles and rivalries. We learn that Nick once had a thing with a student. Meg complains that he is too indulgent of their indolent son. Then she announces that she wants to start a new life.

What happens next helps clarify what’s not quite right with the piece. Having set that bombshell aside, the couple decide that they will try and “enjoy their dinner”. Even in the suburbs that surround English universities, that sort of obfuscation is rare. The characters constantly speak as if they’re in a 1970s BBC TV play and wish to make it clear that all watching know that fact.

Le Week-End gets yet more stilted when Meg and Nick retire to an absurd dinner party (one guest is an expert on Proust; another is an "economist at Le Monde") and start bellowing their problems in long, implausibly well-structured audition pieces.

Meanwhile, an immature passion for French bohemian glamour is hurtling through the film's swelling veins. Accordions compete with faux-Miles toots on Jeremy Sams's – admittedly rather nice – score. A final tribute to a key scene in Jean-Luc Godard's Bande à Parte comes across as pretentious and unimaginative. One can't help but wonder how the script would play out if relocated to Hazelmere or Burton-on-Trent. There's be nothing left.

Anyway, it is set in Paris and, graced with lovely autumnal photography from Nathalie Durand, Le Week-End, for all its faults, plays like a very classy slice of high-end angst. Broadbent (as an unadventurous, tweedy sort) and Duncan (as a flinty, intolerant woman) work effectively within their comfort zones.

The same cannot be said of Goldblum. BELLOWING out unexpected words apparently AT random, he allows his trademark nuttiness to bounce well into the red. This is not altogether a bad thing.

Donald Clarke

Donald Clarke

Donald Clarke, a contributor to The Irish Times, is Chief Film Correspondent and a regular columnist