Upbeat comedy dramas about bored senior citizens finding life again are as common now as Carry On films were in the sixties and seventies. These too feature a regular ensemble cast playing interchangeable roles; these too have a patchy record. Finding Your Feet, however, sees Wimbledon Director Richard Loncraine join the club with a pleasingly meaningful slice of warmth and humour.
When middle-class housewife Sandra (Imelda Staunton) discovers that her newly-retired and ennobled husband (John Sessions) is having an affair with best friend Pamela (Josie Lawrence), she flees their rural-suburban idyll to London and the council estate home of her estranged sister Bif (Celia Imrie). Whereas prim and proper Sandra’s been a one-man-woman for thirty-five years, free-spirited, bohemian Bif’s a serial dater who knows how to have a good time – the trick is outdoor swimming and dance classes at the local community centre, with friends: Charlie (Timothy Spall), Jackie (Joanna Lumley) and Ted (David Heyman).
We all know what Sandra needs – Bif to snap: ‘Get off your high horse and start treating other people with common decency and some good manners’ – and, by gum, we know that she’ll get it before the end of the first half. We also know that puppy-eyed Charlie (a former ‘antique furniture restorer’) is waiting in the wings to help her find life’s music again, while his own wife Lily (Sian Thomas) rapidly forgets him due to care-home-bound illness. We even know that, at some point, one of these senior citizens is going to cough innocuously and croak several scenes later.
Surprises are not the order of the day in this genre and, actually, that’s fine; whilst none here challenge themselves to a role they’re not endlessly familiar with, in this case it’s something of an asset. Indeed, so excellent are the central cast that when the film loses its way in a messier second half – all plot twists and contrivances – it doesn’t matter because these are characters worth caring about. With Spall, Staunton and a career-best Imrie, time flies, laughter and tears flood.
It is thanks to their efforts, along with an empathetically humane script from Nick Moorcroft and Meg Leonard, that Finding Your Feet can boast a more complex affair than its flimsy title foretells. Sharp wit sits aside slapstick, whilst farce is neatly balanced by genuinely devastating moments of heartbreak: the sort that is the baggage of ageing. Such emotional truth, and terrific acting, allows Loncraine to segue from sobs to smiles within the blink of an eye and convey the reality of resilience. In one scene, Bif has her bag stolen; in the next is a hearty gag about laxatives. This isn’t crude, this is honesty.
Despite having long put boogieing behind her, Sandra is cajoled into joining Bif and co. at dance class but her uptake of the activity is more than merely the natural path of genre plotting, it’s a statement and manifesto. For while Lily fades in front of game show television, late life activity is remaking of Sandra, Bif and the rest. When Lumley slips out of character midway through to promote AgeUK, the subtle hint becomes a cry: as the world grows ever older, age remains a number and life must still be lived.
A Billy Elliot for seniors, Finding Your Feet sets out – and succeeds – to prove that if boys can do ballet, sexagenarians can Haarlem shake. Lovely.