Arriving at San Salvatore, a majestic hilltop villa overlooking the Italian countryside, Rose (Miranda Richardson) and Lotte (Josie Lawrence), two gentle and proper middle-class Londoners who have taken a month-long holiday from their overbearing husbands, appear to have stumbled on a garden of earthly delights. Everywhere they look, there are storybook vistas-glistening lakes, ripples of exotic flora, trees so splendidly willowy they might have been placed there by God to shade you in luxury. The two women couldn’t be more pleased. They paid for a holiday and wound up in paradise.
Adapted from Elizabeth von Arnim’s 1922 novel, Enchanted April is a light comic fairy tale about the sublime healing powers of a great vacation. The movie is perfectly pleasant, but it’s also second-rate—a tasteful spectacle of middlebrow feel-goodism. The director, Mike Newell (Dance With a Stranger), sets up a half-dozen tidy conflicts and resolves them all with a wave of the wand. (The happy resolutions are poured on like sprinkles.) At one point, Rose, overwhelmed by the joy she has been feeling since she got to San Salvatore, describes the place as ”a tub of love.” That’s exactly what it is, and Enchanted April invites viewers to dive right in. The travelogue scenery turns the film into a vicarious sun-spangled getaway. More and more, this is what the art-house audience seems to want—Masterpiece Theatre Goes on Holiday.
To rent the villa, Rose and Lotte have agreed to share the cost with a couple of unlikely companions: Mrs. Fisher (Joan Plowright), a poker-faced dowager whose throaty pronouncements make her sound like a veddy British version of Bea Arthur’s Maude, and Lady Caroline (Polly Walker), a beautiful, upper-crust flapper in a black-helmet hairdo who is sick of fighting off rapacious men.
The four women aren’t looking for much, just a little serenity. Yet the idyllic setting works on them like one of Shakespeare’s enchanted forests. Before long, they relax, smile, let their hair down. Rose and Lotte’s husbands eventually show up, and though we’d been led to believe they were self-centered cads, they’re now transformed into nice, huggy guys. Even the most daunting marital coldness just melts away under the Italian sun. By the end of Enchanted April, there isn’t a single character—not even the spiky flapper—who retains much of an edge. That’s what’s appealing about the movie (everyone walks away happy) and also forgettable (everyone walks away mush).