“Meryl Streep (Suffragette, The Iron Lady, Julie & Julia) takes centre stage in Florence Foster Jenkins, a very likeable, frequently hilarious, yet still poignant tragicomedy from director Stephen Frears (Philomena, The Queen). Streep plays the titular songbird, a New York socialite and eager patron of the arts whose enthusiasm for a good tune is matched only by her inability to sing one. Not that it stops her from trying.
Inspired by a performance by soprano Lily Pons, Madame Florence resumes her own singing lessons, with private recitals leading to 78rpm recordings and even an October 1944 concert at Carnegie Hall, which has since passed into legend.
The real Florence Foster Jenkins was one of those larger than life characters you just could not make up. Frears says that Jenkins ‘reminded me of Margaret Dumont… just preposterous, but touching at the same time,’ an assessment that perfectly sums up both Streep’s performance and the overall tone of Frears’s film.
Florence Foster Jenkins stays fancifully faithful to true events, following Jenkins’s rehearsals with pianist Cosmé McMoon in the run-up to the big show, which will fulfil her lifelong ambition. As McMoon, Simon Helberg (The Big Bang Theory) is perfectly cast, an accomplished pianist whose nervous laugh not only echoes Tom Hulce’s cackle in Amadeus, but also weirdly mirrors the shriek with which Streep hits a high C.
Hugh Grant is on career-best form as Florence’s spouse/manager St. Clair Bayfield, a self-proclaimed ‘eminent actor and monologist’ whose recitals provide an appetizer to Jenkins’s own thrillingly bonkers tableaux vivants – winged set pieces mounted for the ‘Verdi Club.’ Frears affords Grant’s silver fox an air of love and devotion to his ‘Bunny.’ For years, Bayfield has protected Florence from ‘the mockers and scoffers,’ soothed her anxieties, and ensured that any criticism of her singing is couched in euphemism. At times I found myself wiping away a tear, genuinely moved by their ‘very happy world.’
As played by Streep, Florence is a heroic figure, made physically fragile by syphilis (a wedding gift from her former husband) but strengthened by a love of music so strong that she turns a deaf ear to her own shortcomings. Like Streep’s later-life Thatcher in The Iron Lady, Jenkins becomes ‘an eloquent lesson in fidelity and courage,’ whatever one may think of her work and legacy. I say ‘Bravo!’” (Mark Kermode, The Guardian)
“This is a fine, funny and moving film tribute to the efforts and passions of its titular heroine, a woman who lived out her dreams, at any price.” (Jason Solomons, TheWrap)
“With Streep on grandstanding form and Grant given a rare chance to show his range, this is an intelligent dramedy that moves and amuses.” (Jamie Graham, Total Film)