by Johnny Web (Uncle Scoopy; Greg Wroblewski)

Venus is Peter O'Toole's latest variation on the same theme he's been playing for most of his career, one that has stamped role after role with his own wit, intelligence, quirky charm and heart. Mostly heart. That's really what distinguishes him, isn't it? He is perhaps the most blatantly sentimental famous actor of his generation. The gushing of Richard Harris was leavened by a certain mad, macho ferocity. The gentleness of Michael Caine has always been tempered by a roguish carnality. Richard Farnsworth was locked out of effusive emotional displays by the natural reserve of the gentlemen of the American West. But there has never been anything ferocious or reserved about Peter O'Toole, and he's at his best when he can stay on the  fey side of sexuality. He just seems to be out there with his heart on his sleeve, puckish but wise, and seeming to possess infinite layers of compassion - a man who has seen too much malice and always understood it, but forgave it anyway.

This time he's wooing a woman barely out of high school (actress Jessie Whittaker is 24), even though O'Toole is 74 and looks ten years older, and is playing a character who is impotent, incontinent, and dying of cancer. He can't provide much in the way of hanky-panky, and his beloved is actually quite thankful for that, and yet there is genuine sexual love between them, and their talks are the playful banter of lovers, not the asexual chit-chat of a grandfather and his favorite granddaughter. There is the kind of mutual mocking and hesitant suggestion that marks our courtship rituals, and there is even some nudity and a tiny bit of physical contact. It is a testimony to O'Toole's unique genius that he can play an 80-year-old man telling a 20-year-old girl that he has been thinking of her "cunt" and not only avoid the concomitant creepiness vibe, but actually make it sound as if he were serenading her with a love song, or reading from a very vivid translation of the Song of Solomon. The important point is that there is a physical love connection between them, if not in the normal sense.

I suppose O'Toole is the greatest performer never to have won an Oscar. O'Toole's alpha and omega nominations are more than four decades apart. He was nominated again for this role, losing this time to Forest Whitaker. His first nomination came for his iconic portrayal of Lawrence of Arabia, a performance which is considered among the greatest in history, and would probably have won in 90% of Oscar's years, but ran up against another performance which, while perhaps not requiring as much talent as Lawrence of Arabia, may be the single most beloved portrayal in screen history - Gregory Peck as Atticus Finch in To Kill a Mockingbird. When O'Toole lost that one, he had his passionate defenders who thought he should have won, but nobody gave it all that much thought because O'Toole was a mere stripling, still in his twenties when he played Lawrence, and he was obviously possessed of such prodigious talent and good looks that he would win many future Oscars. Didn't happen. He has picked up eight nominations, but has come home empty-handed each time. He's a feisty ol' fucker, though, and continues to make two or three films a year, so he may do it yet.

Venus is one of those films much beloved by critics but with very little broad-based appeal, which is a shame because it's the kind of heartfelt quirky comedy film that the Brits do so beautifully, and it's the genre that O'Toole doth bestride like a colossus. I image that a composite critic and a composite mainstream moviegoer would have a dialogue like this:

CRITIC: I have to see so many films, that it's wonderful for me when something like this comes along - so original, so quirky, so filled with real characters and witty banter. Thumb up!

AVERAGE JOE: I suppose all that is true, but I see only four or five films a year, and I'm not going to spend one of my movie nights on a film about a dotty old dying grandpa who's hitting on a young girl. I was hoping for something with a little more energy. I might catch it on cable some night, if I'm too tired to reach for the remote, and I'll probably be surprised by how much I like it.

So it goes.

My head can sympathize with both positions, but my heart came down on the same side as the critics. I enjoyed the film. This is really one for those of you who see a lot of films and are tired of the same old thing. Of course, I seem to enjoy almost everything O'Toole does (My Favorite Year is one of my favorite films), so maybe I'm not Mr. Objective in this case.


* widescreen anamorphic

* full-length director's commentary

* "making of " featurette

* a few brief deleted scenes





O'Toole was nominated for an Oscar and a Golden Globe. O'Toole and his fellow old fart (Leslie Phillips) were both nominated for BAFTAs.

3 James Berardinelli (of 4 stars)
60 British Consensus  (of 100)
88 Rotten Tomatoes  (% positive). It scored 100% from the "cream of the crop"
82 (of 100)


7.3 IMDB summary (of 10)


Box Office Mojo. It grossed about $3 million in arthouse distro (168 theaters.)


  • Jodie Whittaker showed everything except her pubic area, and did so in nice light at that!


Our Grade:

If you are not familiar with our grading system, you need to read the explanation, because the grading is not linear. For example, by our definition, a C is solid and a C+ is a VERY good movie. There are very few Bs and As. Based on our descriptive system, this film is a:


I would rate it higher, but a B- requires at least some degree of public acceptance, and this found none.  The critics and academy loved it, as did I. Mainstream moviegoers did not.