Florence Foster Jenkins (film)
|Florence Foster Jenkins|
Theatrical release poster
|Directed by||Stephen Frears|
|Written by||Nicholas Martin|
|Music by||Alexandre Desplat|
|Edited by||Valerio Bonelli|
|Box office||$56 million|
Florence Foster Jenkins is a 2016 biographical comedy-drama film directed by Stephen Frears and written by Nicholas Martin. The film stars Meryl Streep as Florence Foster Jenkins, a New York heiress who became an opera singer known for her painful lack of singing skill. Hugh Grant plays her husband and manager, English Shakespearean actor St. Clair Bayfield. Other cast members include Simon Helberg, Rebecca Ferguson, and Nina Arianda.
Filming began in May 2015, and the premiere was held in London on 12 April 2016. The film was released on 6 May 2016 in the United Kingdom, 13 July in France and 12 August in the United States. The film received a warm response from critics, who praised the acting and warm tone of the film. The film was nominated for two Oscars at the 89th Academy Awards: Best Actress for Streep (her 20th nomination) and Best Costume Design and also received four Golden Globe nominations including Best Picture.
Florence Foster Jenkins (Meryl Streep) is a New York City heiress and socialite who founded the Verdi Club to celebrate her passionate love of music. As it is 1944 and the U.S. is in the midst of World War II, Florence is of the opinion that "music matters more than ever." St. Clair Bayfield (Hugh Grant), a British Shakespearean actor, is her husband and manager. Despite being married, Florence and Bayfield live in separate residences. She lives in a grand hotel suite while he resides in an apartment in the city with his secret mistress, Kathleen Weatherley (Rebecca Ferguson). Florence suffers from a long-term case of syphilis, which she contracted from her first husband. The illness has caused her to have various health problems for which she takes medication, including mercury and arsenic, that have toxic side effects. Due to the fear of passing the disease on to Bayfield, she remains abstinent from all sexual intercourse in her marriage, and Bayfield has sex with Kathleen.
Florence decides to resume her long-neglected singing lessons. She hires pianist Cosmé McMoon (Simon Helberg) and introduces him to her vocal coach, Carlo Edwards (David Haig), the assistant conductor at the Metropolitan Opera. McMoon is shocked that Florence is a terrible singer, yet Bayfield and Edwards pretend she is wonderful, with the former giving McMoon a dire warning against criticizing her.
Bayfield arranges a small recital, hand-picking the attendees. On the night of the performance, loyal Verdi Club members watch respectfully, but others can barely contain their laughter. Feeling encouraged by her recital’s good reviews, she makes a recording as a Christmas gift for the Verdi Club. Florence gives McMoon a copy, which leads to her recalling that Bayfield was an unsuccessful actor and that she hid negative reviews from him. She also informs McMoon of her history as a piano player and teacher, having once played for the President as a child. McMoon realizes that Florence is not as musically inept as he had thought, strengthening their friendship.
Florence and McMoon write and perform original songs together, one of which gets airtime on the radio, much to the shock and horror of Bayfield and Kathleen, despite many listeners enjoying it, believing it to be comedic. With this burst in popularity, Florence informs Bayfield that she has booked Carnegie Hall for a one night performance and will give away a thousand tickets to soldiers. Bayfield fails to dissuade her. Bayfield stressed over the impending performance, gets into a fight with a group of men laughing at Florence and McMoon's song at a bar. Kathleen, resenting the lack of attention, leaves Bayfield. McMoon confides to Bayfield that he fears that the recital will humiliate him and ruin his career. Bayfield replies that he gave up his acting career to support his wife and urges McMoon to possibly do the same for the sake of his friend. McMoon agrees, elated to at least play at Carnegie Hall.
The concert is packed and attended by the likes of Cole Porter and Tallulah Bankhead. When Florence begins singing, the soldiers laugh and jeer. Her supporters and loyal friends, however, scold them and then cheer for her to keep singing. She happily continues her performance. Meanwhile, the columnist Earl Wilson for the New York Post refuses to continue listening, telling a desperate Bayfield that he will write a damning review of the recital.
Bayfield, with McMoon's help, goes to great lengths so that she only receives good reviews by buying every copy of the New York Post in the vicinity and throwing them away. After being given sarcastically patronizing comments about her performance alluding to the New York Post's review by a pair of young men, Florence is driven to find a copy of the review in a trash can and is upset to the point of collapse. As she is dying in bed, Bayfield by her side, Florence remembers a fancy angel costume worn for the concert as an angel and imagines herself singing beautiful opera. She imagines that she, McMoon and Bayfield all take a triumphant bow to a standing ovation. She points out proudly that even though people can say she could not sing, no one can say she did not sing. Peacefully, she dies.
- Meryl Streep as Florence Foster Jenkins
- Hugh Grant as St. Clair Bayfield
- Simon Helberg as Cosmé McMoon
- Rebecca Ferguson as Kathleen Weatherley
- Nina Arianda as Agnes Stark
- Stanley Townsend as Phineas Stark
- Allan Corduner as John Totten
- Christian McKay as Earl Wilson
- David Haig as Carlo Edwards
- John Sessions as Dr. Hermann
- Bríd Brennan as Kitty
- John Kavanagh as Arturo Toscanini
- Pat Starr as Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney
- Maggie Steed as Mrs. James O'Flaherty
- Thelma Barlow as Mrs. Oscar Garmunder
- Liza Ross as Mrs. E.E. Patterson
- Paola Dionisotti as Baroness Le Feyre
- Rhoda Lewis as Mrs. Patsy Snow
- Aida Garifullina as Lily Pons
- Nat Luurtsema as Tallulah Bankhead
- Mark Arnold as Cole Porter
Prior to reading the Nicholas Martin penned script, Frears did not have much knowledge about Jenkins beyond the portrayal of her in the West End play Glorious! by Peter Quilter, but on the strength of the script, Frears became interested and did research by watching various Youtube videos of her. Upon watching the videos Frears noted that "You’re laughing and she touches you. It’s inherently ridiculous and courageous at the same time." Likewise both he and Streep were determined that despite the subject matter that the audience side with Florence.
Frears himself did not initially envision Streep in the role, but after her name was brought up Frears agreed, noting that he thought it would be something fresh for her. Streep worked with a singing coach to help her prepare for the role of Jenkins. Frears praised her performance, stating "You can only sing badly if you are good singer."
On 27 March 2015, Simon Helberg was set to play Cosmé McMoon, a pianist and the accompanist to Jenkins. Rebecca Ferguson was added to the cast on 1 April 2015. On 13 April 2015, Nina Arianda joined the film to play Agnes Stark, a showgirl struggling to move up into high society with the help of her husband.
Principal photography on the film began in May 2015 in London. Pathé released a first-look photo on 22 May, featuring Streep and Grant as Jenkins and Bayfield, respectively. Filming was done in Hoylake and Liverpool city centre.
On 15 June, Grant and Ferguson were spotted filming in a resort in New Brighton, Merseyside. Filming also took place in Liverpool and the city was transformed into 1940s New York City, with Liverpool's Drury Lane being turned into Central Park West, where Streep and Grant were spotted filming in June 2015. Production concluded on 20 July 2015.
In September 2015, Paramount Pictures acquired U.S distribution rights to the film. The film had its world premiere at the Belfast Film Festival on April 23, 2016. The film was theatrically released in the United Kingdom on 6 May 2016 and in the United States on 12 August 2016.
In the United States and Canada, Florence Foster Jenkins was released on 12 August 2016, against Pete's Dragon and Sausage Party, and was projected to gross $5–7 million from 1,500 theaters in its opening weekend. It went on to open to $6.6 million, finishing 8th at the box office.
On Rotten Tomatoes, the film has an approval rating of 87%, based on 193 reviews, with an average rating of 7.1/10. The site's critical consensus reads, "Florence Foster Jenkins makes poignant, crowd-pleasing dramedy out of its stranger-than-fiction tale – and does its subject justice with a reliably terrific turn from star Meryl Streep." On Metacritic, the film has a score of 71 out of 100, based on 41 critics, indicating "generally favorable reviews". Audiences polled by CinemaScore gave the film an average grade of "A–" on an A+ to F scale.
Wai Chee Dimock, writing in the Los Angeles Review of Books, linked the film to Hamlet and The Magic Flute, saying that the film "is neither tragedy nor farce, but a passable admixture of the two, defining both negatively."
- Marguerite, a 2015 French film inspired by the life of Jenkins.
- Glorious!, the Olivier Award-nominated West End stage comedy about Jenkins by Peter Quilter.
- Souvenir, two-character play with music about Jenkins and McMoon starring Judy Kaye, written by Stephen Temperley.
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