In 1989 former adman Peter Mayle wrote a book about how he left the rat race behind and started a new life in France. A Year in Provence was its name and this humorous memoir set the tone for the TV series that followed, starring John Thaw as the escapee to the good life. Though director Alan Parker had been at the Ogilvy agency where Mayle was the UK’s creative head, it was another UK former commercials director, Ridley Scott, who decided to turn Mayle’s novel, about a stockbroker who gets fired and then inherits a vineyard from his uncle, into a film. And Scott stays true to type, laying on the warm amber filtration reminiscent of advertisements for reassuringly expensive French lager (Stella Artois is in fact Belgian, but that never seems to bother advertisers), while drafting in Russell Crowe to play the London City brute who learns of his bequest and heads off to Provence, which he hasn’t visited since he was a child.
Once there, he continues his career as an utter bastard and prepares to sell the vineyard off, against the objections of his uncle’s loyal retainers. Surprisingly, things don’t pan out the way Crowe’s Max planned. Of course they don’t – surprises are the last thing Scott, Crowe and Mayle are serving up in this soufflé of stereotypes.
Judged against Scott classics such as Alien or Blade Runner, A Good Year is never going to make the cut. But seen as a “holiday” movie for all concerned – Scott, it turns out, is Mayle’s near neighbour in Provence – it’s a pleasant piece of duvet viewing spiked with performances by the likes of Albert Finney (Max’s much loved uncle), Abbie Cornish (as Max’s long-lost cousin, who might want a slice of the estate) and Marion Cotillard (the local waitress Max falls for) which make it more than it might have been.
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© Steve Morrissey 2006