With The Lonely Passion of Judith Hearne producer Peter Nelson adapted Brian Moore’s 1955 award-winning first novel for the screen, shifting the locale of the original from Belfast to Dublin. Maggie Smith is simply superb as the eponymous Judith Hearne, an ageing Irish spinster orphan brought up by her selfish aunt (Wendy Hiller) who, after she suffers a stroke, makes her niece repay the debt by thanklessly nursing her.
After her aunt dies, Hearne moves from one boarding house to another, earning a precarious living as a piano teacher, being forced to move each time through the discovery of her secret drinking. She moves into the boarding house run on strict lines by Mrs Rice (Marie Kean). Hearne’s fellow guests include Rice’s middle-aged brother James Madden (Bob Hoskins) who has recently returned form New York. She naively mistakes his worldliness for sophistication while he, in turn wrongly interprets her gentility as a being an indication that she has money…
Clayton, one of Britain’s best and sadly far-too-rarely-used directors, handles the screenplay with sensitive assurance. He concentrates to impressive effect on his two leading players who reward him with memorable performances. Amazingly for a film with so complex an emotional development and emphasis on character, The Lonely Passion of Judith Hearne was shot in only seven weeks. The finished film, however, shows no signs of stress, speed or skimping but comes off marvellously, both as a fine version of Moore’s novel and as a major work of cinema in its own right.
UK / Handmade / 116 minutes / 1987
Writer: Peter Nelson, from the novel by Brian Moore / Cinematography: Peter Hannan / Music: Georges Delerue / Production Design: Michael Pickwood / Producers: George Harrison, Denis O’Brien / Director: Jack Clayton
Cast: Maggie Smith, Bob Hoskins, Wendy Hiller, Marie Kean, Ian McNeice, Alan Devlin