by Jonathan Walker & Karl Bowman
“This place makes me feel flooded with love. The important thing is to have lots of love about. I was very stingy with it back home. I used to measure and count it out. I had this obsession with justice, you see. I wouldn’t love Mellersh unless he loved me back exactly as much. But, he didn’t and neither did I. The emptiness of it all.”
Lotti Wilkins (Josie Lawrence) becomes obsessed with the notion of spending a holiday at an old Italian castle when she sees it advertised. She draws Rose Arbuthnot (Miranda Richardson) into the idea, but when they sign the lease, they determine they cannot afford it themselves. They find two women to share it with: the proper elderly lady, Mrs. Fisher (Joan Plowright), and the celebrity Caroline Dester (Polly Walker). April at San Salvatore works its wonders at healing each’s ailing heart.
There is a marvel about the storytelling in Enchanted April which is based on the novel by Elizabeth von Arnim. The screenplay by Peter Barnes follows the book’s omniscience by taking us inside each of the women’s thoughts. The story shines best when exploring these characters.
Lotti is insecure and dominated by her husband Mellersh and so has become closed in her affections. At the beginning of the film, she’s insecure and can’t find the strength to assert herself for fear of her husband. But, Lotti is a special spirit. She “sees” inside people; she can discern their inner state and also envision their potential. She blossoms in Italy, touching each woman’s life in special ways.
Rose’s religious devotion has squelched her love and acceptance of her husband, Frederick, who makes a living writing scandalous novels under a pen name. Their relationship has devolved to icy receptions and harsh judgements. Frederick even clumsily seeks Caroline’s attentions among the society crowd. When Frederick comes to San Salvatore, she rushes into his arms and they rekindle their affection.
Mrs. Fisher has ceased living in the present and wallows in the memories of her socializing with immortal poets and people of distinction. With all of those cherished personalities passed from her life, she has little need for “the living.” She seeks to spend a quiet holiday renewing her “friendships” in reading, but soon finds fulfilment in the love of new friends.
Caroline has glided along in life by virtue of being born to “every advantage” of wealth and beauty. She attracts men like moths to a light, but no longer enjoys their doting. She is weary of the sycophants and “grabbers” who annoy her. Ostensibly, she only wants a holiday where she is left alone, but what she finds is acceptance for who she is on the inside.
The audience tends to go through much the same transformation that the characters do. We, too, start out ashamed of Lotti’s oddities, Mellersh’s self-promotion, Frederick’s clumsiness, Caroline’s narcissism, Mrs. Fisher’s name-dropping, and Rose’s religious lack of forgiveness. But, soon, we learn to appreciate the people for who they are. We warm up to their idiosyncracies as we learn that they are deeper than their surface.
Even the cinematography and production design ad to this re-awakening. The rainy, colorless London streets contrast to the sunny, vibrant Italian retreat. Their escape from the oppressive weather marks the beginning of their emancipation from oppressive thoughts, habits, and biases. When they wake up, they throw open the shutters to a breathtaking view of cheery flowers, lush landscaping, and a shimmering ocean. They figuratively, and literally, see life anew.
All of the women’s stories are about the obstacles to loving relationships, and consequently the obstacles to living happily with other people. Each lady finds salvation from their problems where they would least expect to find it. Each decides to go to San Salvatore to escape the people that they judge to be the obstacle to their happiness (Mellersh, Fredrick, “the living,” or men in general). Lotti and Rose see this as a time for them to be selfish for once, to leave behind their service, their responsibilities, and the grey London weather. They come to find, especially through Lotti’s quirky affection that they have turned their backs on the wrong problem. Shedding themselves of these people won’t bring them happiness. These people bring them joy, but they have long since stopped appreciating them-and the feeling has become mutual.
When Lotti opens up to Mellersh, he opens up to her. He abandons his business designs for Caroline and Mrs. Fisher. Even Caroline marks with satisfaction that he is not a grabber and that he “fits in.” Frederick comes in the spirit of infidelity and finds the love he and his wife had let fade. Mrs. Fisher quickly became lonely with only the voices of the past to talk to and found pleasure in the company of the living. And Caroline found the perfect mate, someone who looks only on the quality of a person and not on her outward appearance-possible because of his severe nearsightedness.
We don’t need the bright Mediterranean sunlight to knock us each from the complacency with which we approach our daily relationships. We only need to remind ourselves what a wonderful thing it is to share our lives with people around us and take Lotti’s advice to not “measure and count” out our love, but to share it freely. For “being stingy” with our love will not help us get more, but letting our love “burst out,” as Lotti says, can open others’ hearts.
2001 Meridian Magazine. All Rights Reserved.