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'Little Voice'

By Michael O'Sullivan
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, December 25, 1998

  Movie Critic

Little Voice
Michael Caine is a talent agent who has big plans for "Little Voice," played by Jane Horrocks. (Miramax)

Mark Herman
Brenda Blethyn;
Jane Horrocks;
Michael Caine;
Jim Broadbent;
Ewan McGregor
Running Time:
1 hour, 40 minutes
Contains a riotous stream of coarse language, a topless dancer and sexual banter
"Little Voice" is like an expertly tailored gown of beaded silk. It showcases star Jane Horrocks to perfection, but should the wearer step out of it, the garment would not be able to stand on its own.

So it is with this lovely but gossamer-thin film based on a play that itself was based on a peculiar talent of Horrocks – her uncanny gift for vocal mimicry of some of this century's greatest female singers. Insubstantial but achingly well-acted, "Little Voice" would collapse in a heap without Horrocks there to support it.

On stage, the British actress ("Life Is Sweet") was a sensation in Jim Cartwright's "The Rise and Fall of Little Voice" – a melodrama about a withdrawn young woman who has learned to imitate old Judy Garland, Marlene Dietrich and Shirley Bassey records – and now filmmaker Mark Herman ("Brassed Off") has adapted Cartwright's stage play for the screen. That it succeeds is chiefly due to the abilities of its remarkable cast.

In addition to Horrocks, who plays shy-to-the-point-of-autistic LV (short for "Little Voice" in reference to her inaudible speaking style), the film includes Oscar-nominated Brenda Blethyn ("Secrets and Lies") as the heroine's blowsy widowed mum and bane of LV's existence, Mari. Once again, Blethyn astonishes in the role of a blue-streak swearing Gorgon who manages to evoke not only amusement and disgust but sympathy. As Ray Say, Mari's love interest and the low-rent talent agent who thinks he has "discovered" LV, Michael Caine brings a brassy dignity to a character whose hubris is almost tragic.

In smaller roles, Jim Broadbent shines as Mr. Boo, the greasy club owner who pins the hopes for his dying lounge on LV's act, while the ubiquitous Ewan McGregor turns in a sweet performance as the reluctant singer's suitor and knight in shining armor.

"Little Voice" may be more of a confection than a square meal, but it's proof of how good a dish can be when the ingredients are of the highest order.

© Copyright 1998 The Washington Post Company

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