bolshy teenage great-niece of his old mucker Ian (Leslie Phillips), makes it clear that his appetite is very much intact. As the ageing lothario takes it upon himself to broaden the girl’s horizons, a wary rapport between the
Scripted by Hanif Kureishi, ‘Venus’ is something of a companion piece to ‘The Mother’ (also directed by Roger Michell) in its examination of a cross-generational relationship between a female newcomer to London and a more worldly man whose libido she piques. The fact that the man is the elder here – and one with a reputation as a ‘professor of pussy’ at that – would seem to mark this as a more conventional story of objectifying desire. In fact, ‘Venus’ presents the male gaze as a pretty pathetic impulse, perhaps as demeaning to the looker as the looked-at; like the mirror-gazing model for Velázquez’s Rokeby Venus – the source of Maurice’s nickname for Jessie – the adolescent gradually, and with ambiguous consequences, learns how to harness the power of her own appeal.
Kureishi’s characteristically witty and bracing screenplay is well served by a superb cast, from the consummately self-reflexive valedictory lead turn by O’Toole and Whittaker’s credibly uningratiating celluloid debut to effortlessly lived-in support from Phillips, Vanessa Redgrave and Richard Griffiths. Incongruous slatherings of croony upbeat pop and London landmarks seem to have strayed in from Michell’s ‘Notting Hill’, but the lingering impressions here are of regret, resignation and renewal, the fascination of firm flesh and O’Toole growling ‘Come on, old man!’ as he slaps his own sagging face.