Fresh from helping Richard E Grant relive his childhood in Wah-Wah, Julie Walters now does the same for Mrs Brown scriptwriter Jeremy Brock, who has drawn on his formative years as a vicar’s son in the employ of legendary English actress Dame Peggy Ashcroft as the spur for his first foray behind the camera. As film pitches go, this one is about as accessible as, well, a young boy’s experiences growing up in colonial Swaziland. And unless you’ve spent some time either clearing up after a theatrical legend or doing Christian good works in leafy north London, the chances are there’ll be a barrier between you and the material that might seem too difficult to bother with.
But try anyway, if only for the pleasure of seeing one of those blissfully extravagant turns our Julie churns out as a matter of course nowadays.
Hunched over like a more aristocratic version of her Acorn Antiques creation Mrs Overall, bemoaning her reduced circumstances and tits that have “turned into time-bombs”, her eccentric old biddy is a tireless riot, providing a motor and drive for Brock’s lazy meander down his own personal memory lane. Though markedly less animated and colourful, Laura Linney still makes a formidable adversary as the domineering gorgon of the Finchley set who uses her ostentatious philanthropy as a cover for cuckolding her spineless hubby. And there’s an extra injection of Girl Power from newcomer Michelle Duncan, playing the feisty Scot who gets horizontal with our young hero during an impromptu visit to Edinburgh.
Which leaves Rupert Grint, the lanky redheaded one from the Harry Potter movies, to take his first tentative steps into grown-up acting as the timid, self-conscious centre around whom these strong women revolve. Is this the vehicle to launch him out of Hogwarts into the thespian world beyond? Alas, no. Young Master Weasley shows flashes of charisma but his hangdog expression becomes less of an acting choice, more an all-purpose default setting that makes his casting as a tree in Linney’s religious pageant only too appropriate.
Grint can't quite make the leap to Proper Actor, but the ever likeable Walters keeps this parochial comedy-drama from completely stalling.