“A Month By the Lake” is a charming story which relies on the reserved manners of the English people to slow down the inevitable force of nature which brings together members of the opposite sex. The romantic setting, however, propels the characters to fantasize as they vacation aimlessly in a resort on Lake Como in northern Italy. It sets the tone that the guests are high class citizens accustomed to good service and acceptable companions.
Vanessa Redgrave Wikimedia
In the year 1937, Miss Bentley (Vanessa Redgrave), whose given name is never mentioned, returns for a month’s stay at the elegant lakeside resort where she has spent many happy days with her widowed father, who passed away recently. She is middle-aged and English, and prides herself on being an amateur photographer. She has a self-confidence which is typical of women of her age who have weathered the storm of rejection and have found peace in the knowledge that they are in control of their own lives. Vanessa Redgrave is perfectly cast; no other actress could execute the role as well.
The Major Arrives
On the first day of her adventure, Miss Bentley noticed an English gentleman, Major Wilshaw (Edward Fox) who was also apparently alone. She was taken by his good lucks, notably his ears which she believes tell a lot about a man’s personality. At their first meeting in the dining room, she made bold to tell him that he had the ears of a kind and gentle man. Succumbing to the flattery, the Major (who also has no given name) asked her to join him for a drink before dinner that evening.
Uma Thurman Wikimedia
The Nanny Meets Miss Bentley
Miss Bentley took great pains in preparing herself for the date, but was interrupted in her room by a newly-arrived guest, Miss Beaumont (Uma Thurman), the nanny for the two Bonizzoni children. She inquired if she might have something to eat since she was famished. She disliked the Finishing School she attended in Switzerland but was not ready to go back to her parents’ home in the United States. The offer to be a nanny on a temporary basis appealed to her.
Miss Bentley Challenges the Major at a Game of Tennis
Miss Bentley was unconcerned that she was being held up from her date with Major Wilshaw. He had already seated himself for his dinner when she arrived and apologized. She asked the Major why he always carried two tennis rackets. His reply was that he would always be able to supply a prospective partner with a racket if the occasion arose. She offered to play a set with the Major. A group of guests were eager to watch the match and rooted for their favorite. As it turned out, the female, physically adept and an expert at the game, won the match soundly, to the Major’s humiliation.
Obstacles to Friendship Occur
As a result, the Major did not speak to his opponent at dinner, nor did he speak to her on the boat ride which they had each booked on the next afternoon. Miss Bentley nevertheless approached him, they conversed, and he agreed to what he called “Pax,” a peace reconciliation. They were able to take a rowboat with the intention of meeting up with the larger craft before it left the dock to take them back to their resort. They missed the boat due to the Major's watch having stopped. Major Wilshaw was peeved once again, especially since his date chose to ride back on a motorcycle with the young man who had been flirting with her in town, Vittorio (Alessandro Gassman). The Major grabbed a taxi.
Lake Como - Wikimedia
The Major Leaves and Returns
The next day, the Major announced that he had to return to England. He had his own business and was concerned that his absence would affect the staff’s efficiency. Miss Bentley was sorely disappointed. She had been hoping that their friendship would bloom into something more. As he was leaving, Miss Beaumont grabbed a rose from the dining room and placed it in the Major’s lapel. She also planted a kiss on him and said she would miss him. Later, Miss Bentley told the nanny that she had been cruel to the Major because he had taken her seriously, thinking that she was interested in him.
Later, the Major’s luggage was deposited in the lobby with the two tennis rackets. He had changed his mind, and returned to the resort, obviously smitten by Miss Beaumont. When he saw her, he made a date with her to go for a swim. He waited a long time for her, and Miss Bentley came upon him. She offered to go for a swim with him. On their way to the lake, Miss Beaumont was waiting where she had told the Major she would be. She was miffed, but all three went for a swim.
Vittorio Flirts with Miss Bentley
Vittorio was at the beach and started flirting with Miss Bentley, who realized that the Major’s interest was whetted when he noticed the flirtation. Soon, an Italian military band came through the area, starting a small riot among the people. Vittorio grabbed Miss Bentley and said he would take her to safety at his sister’s house. Miss Bentley realized when they got there that the apartment was definitely a bachelor pad and not his sister’s house. Vittorio kissed her and held her tightly, so that she had to swing at him and then slap him. He apologized and she asked if she could take some pictures of him, to which he agreed.
When she returned to the resort, the Major asked her if she was with her Italian boyfriend, and he was cool to her. He had dinner with Miss Beaumont and they both had too much to drink. She called him a candlestick and said he was boring. Back at the resort, she left him in the dining room, where Miss Bentley found him, falling asleep in a chair.
Alessandro Gassman Wikimedia
The Ending Will Not Be Told
The ending has a few twists and turns which will not be discussed here. Since I am not English, it is difficult to fathom what is in the minds of these English characters. They are not as outspoken as the American Miss Beaumont. When she saw the pictures of Vittorio that Miss Bentley had taken, her attention zeroed in on him, particularly when she learned that he came from an extremely wealthy family.
The Major’s reticence did not prevent him from sending flowers on her breakfast plate which was being sent to her room, along with a note which said “Pax.”
Vanessa Redgrave was nominated for a Golden Globe for Best Performance by an Actress in a Motion Picture. She deserved the nomination as she carried the whole picture. The rest of the cast gave mediocre performances.