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‘Widows’ Peak’ (PG-13)

By Rita Kempley
Washington Post Staff Writer
May 25, 1994

Pink roses spill over stone walls and into the lanes of Kilshannon, a wee village tyrannized by a community of well-fixed dowagers in "Widows' Peak," an old-fashioned Irish comedy warmed by the appealing performances of Mia Farrow, Natasha Richardson and Joan Plowright. The grandest of the dames, Plowright puts the lemon in this too-cozy tale of tea parties as Mrs. Doyle Counihan, the high-handed leader of the crones. By the provisions of an ancestor's will, the ladies, all widows, live on the peak, which looks across the mist to the mountains and down on a glory of lakes. The only exceptions in this homogeneous neighborhood are Mrs. Doyle Counihan's son, Godfrey (Adrian Dunbar), the sole man on the hilltop, and the impoverished Miss O'Hare (Mia Farrow), a spinster whose inclusion presages the mystery that underlies this scenic view of Ireland in the 1920s.

The story, by Dubliner Hugh Leonard, unwinds leisurely in a not altogether successful attempt to acclimate the audience to the slower rhythms of the postwar period. The ladies, wrapped in black crepe, spend their days spying on their neighbors, then exchanging gossip over tea and cordials. They have nearly exhausted their interest in Miss O'Hare's budding interest in Mr. Clancy (Jim Broadbent) when Mrs. Broome (Richardson), a glamorous war widow, brings the promise of new tidbits to the Peak.

Though she clearly has a hidden agenda, Mrs. Broome deceives her new neighbors with tales of French fortune-hunters at her last place in Antibes; with her saucy modern ways, she then seduces the foppish Godfrey Doyle Counihan into offering his hand. Only Miss O'Hare is suspicious of the woman, for whom she develops an extreme and unreasonable hatred. "What began as a quarrel has become a scandal. There's talk of graffiti," huffs Mrs. Doyle Counihan. But Miss O'Hare will not desist, for she has her own score to settle.

Director John Irvin, who also made Harold Pinter's 1984 comedy, "Turtle Diary," allows that film's dusky tone to settle over this much shallower character study. An unevenly paced work that leads to a twist with the feel of an afterthought, "Widows' Peak" is a film with two endings. Asked to suddenly involve themselves in its contrived second closing, viewers will, but reluctantly.

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