In Acorn Media's new DVD release Painted Lady, Dame Helen Mirren plays Maggie Sheridan, a one-time music star who got caught up in hard partying and semi-retired to the Irish countryside estate of a close friend, Sir Charles Stafford, living in a small house on the property. But one night a robbery at the main house leaves Sir Charles dead and Maggie crying over his body.
It turns out that Sir Charles’s son, Sebastian, on old friend of Maggie’s, owes 60,000 pounds in gambling debts to a notorious Irish gangland boss. Sir Charles set the robbery up to get Sebastian the money from the insurance settlement. But the murder complicated things. Sebastian arrives at estate to clear up his father’s affair, but he’s still hunted by the Irish mob. Maggie sets off to London to recuperate from her experience at the home of her half-sister and husband.
But there Maggie decides to do her own police work. She embeds herself in the world of art dealing and auction houses. She gets lessons in art from her half-sister and husband, both well-known and respected in European art history and dealing circles. Maggie takes on the identity of a Polish countess to infiltrate the art world and see if she can track down the stolen painting and find the real killer of Sir Charles. And along the way make some money to pay off Sebastian’s gambling debts.
Franco Nero (best known to bad-movie aficionados as the lead in Enter the Ninja) plays a somewhat mysterious New York-based art dealer who may or may not be tied to the increasingly intricate mystery that begins to unfold after Maggie arrives in the Big Apple. From there the action moves swiftly from New York to London, back to Ireland before two endings, each surprising revealing surprising twists.
As Maggie, Mirren gives a standout performance. There’s one scene in a New York jazz club where she simply stares at the bar during a friend’s trumpet solo. You can just tell everything she’s thinking of just from her look. That scene right there is a perfect example of why Dame Mirren is so celebrated as an actress. Even in what could have been a simple throwaway role, she gives a subtle yet amazing performance.
The film has a number of songs supposedly by Mirren’s character Maggie. But it’s not Mirren singing; the songs are actually sung by Jenny Darren, a British songstress of some fame in the UK. The DVD is fairly sharp, though some of the New York scenes seemed a little washed-out. It’s not the quality of the DVD; it’s likely the actual film itself. One of the enduring mysteries of some pre-2000 BBC shows is the lack of sharpness in production. You see it in some of the mystery shows and miniseries like this one. Things have certainly swung in the opposite direction, with shows like Wire In The Blood being as sharp and well-filmed as anything on TV.
But above all, Painted Lady is a top-notch mystery. Once again Acorn Media delivers another jewel from the BBC.