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‘Widows’ Peak’ (PG-13)

By Joe Brown
Washington Post Staff Writer
May 27, 1994

So nice to see Mia Farrow again. And especially nice to see her acting like something other than tabloid fodder or Woody Allen's distaff alter ego. Farrow is just one of the sweetly sinister spinsters who inhabit a wee, funny, bucolic gothic film called "Widows' Peak."

In 1920s Ireland, the tiny Irish town of Kilshannon sits in the shadow of a hill called Widows' Peak, populated by a colony of widows, and dominated by the formidable Mrs. Doyle Counihan (Joan Plowright), who motors about in her grand car with her cheroot-chomping chauffeur Miss Grubb (Anne Kent). Farrow plays haunted-looking Miss O'Hare, who, unlike the other well-off women, was never married, is poor as a church mouse and has a Dark Secret besides. A tad strange -- she wears her cardigans like straitjackets -- Farrow is being courted by Clancy (Jim Broadbent) the town dentist. (I had to cover my eyes early in the movie, during a humorous scene of explicit dentistry.)

Plowright keeps matriarchal rule on the town, keeping the widows in line and peering for improprieties from her spyglass atop the hill -- the only s-e-x on Widows' Peak is spelled out. Enter Edwina Broome (Natasha Richardson), an ostentatiously glamorous young war widow with a hilariously flat American accent, who proffers the improbable explanation that she's moved to the secluded town to escape the fortune hunters at Antibes.

Richardson is warmly welcomed into the widows' society -- Plowright fancies Richardson a fine match for her weedy mama's boy Godfrey (the amusingly Prince Charles-ish Adrian Dunbar) -- but she's a pistol, wearing red, dancing with local louts, deliberately hiring the town gossip Maddie O'Hara (aka Mata Hari) as her maid. And she seems to have a grudge against Farrow. Soon there are rumors of "morder" among the whispering widows.

Irish playwright Hugh Leonard wrote the lively script, peppered with ripe turns of phrase and dashes of Irish-English antagonism, and director John Irvin enhances it with loads of picturesque views and unforgettable Irish faces. Plowright and Farrow are loads of fun, but Richardson steals the show. She seems to have been directed to impersonate Sharon Stone, and whether she's strutting bra-less around the town or plucking Farrow's prize-winning roses, her wickedness is enjoyably transparent.

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