Deborah Ross

Striking the wrong note

Stephen Frears’s new film fails to ask the most important and basic question: how did Florence not know she was an awful singer?

Before we turn our attention to Florence Foster Jenkins — but if you can’t wait, it’s so-so — I feel I should address the several hundred (and counting; hell’s bells) comments below my negative review of Captain America: Civil War last week, and the many pleas that I should ‘get a life!’, which seemed a bit rich. Indeed, as I’m not the one overly invested in a film franchise where the films are barely films, just noisy assemblages of CGI set pieces, am I the one most in need of this ‘life’ being talked about? And now I hope to put this argument to bed, otherwise 1) we’ll be here for ever and poor Florence won’t get a look in and 2) as a person whose ‘opinian’ doesn’t matter and who was plainly ‘biast’ I feel I’ve already experienced enough adventures in spelling to last a lifetime, and therefore don’t wish to kick it all off again.

And now on to Florence. This is based on the rich, real-life 1940s New York socialite who fancied herself as a gifted singer whereas, in truth, she was appalling. Rupert Christiansen has detailed her life on page 42, so I refer you to that, rather than repeat everything here. I will say only that I’ve listened to the original recordings, as available on YouTube, and her Queen of the Night aria may be the worst sound I have ever heard aside, perhaps, from foxes having sex in the middle of the night. It may even be that foxes having sex in the middle of the night are more tuneful. Why didn’t she know? It’s possible there is no answer to that, given the delusional nature of delusions, but I do wish this film had asked anyhow.

It’s directed by Stephen Frears, who has had his highs (My Beautiful Laundrette, Dangerous Liaisons, Dirty Pretty Things, The Queen, Philomena) and his lows (Tamara Drewe, Mrs Henderson Presents) and this is neither high nor low but a middling one, taking its place alongside The Program, say.

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