A Flea in Her Ear - comments by actor Alec McCowen

The Magdalene Sisters  The Chicago Tribune, The Guardian (London)
The Magdalene Sisters: 100+ reviews including an audio review from National Public Radio

Love's Labour's Lost   Cornell University Graduate School of Arts and Sciences
A show stopper by the best trouper in the lot, Geraldine McEwan, a veteran of half a century on the stage and screen, offers wit that twinkles from the inside. She's a delight!

Hay Fever
Express, Sunday Times, London Review, Peter Hepple
She bats her lines off walls with fabulous theatricality. It's like watching Greta Garbo acting after 15 sherries and bottle of happy pills.....
Comments by Greta Sachi - The Guardian 2011

The Rivals  The Guardian, Observer, Daily Telegraph and Wall Street Journal, New Statesman

The Rivals  They sweep onto the Olivier stage like some invading army under the superlative command of Peter Wood, to give what surely must be the definitive postwar revival of Sheridan's Bath nights. Around these two blazing stars...Geraldine McEwan and Michael Hordern..., Tim Curry made a South Bank debut of distinction.

The Rivals  McEwan's Malaprop is like Sisyphus with his stone, forever flexing her mental muscles, seizing on intransigent words, and trying to shove them into impossible places. It is a task that understandably brings her moments of self-doubt, even panic, and when she thinks she's accomplished it, the relief on that solemn, superior face of hers is marvelous to see. It is a lovely performance. New Statesman - Benedict Nightingale

The Way of the World The Independent on Sunday, the Guardian, and Sunday London Times

The Way of the World In the late sixties she was a radiant Millamant; now she has expanded into the older woman, whom she plays as shrewd, skittish and lustful. As in all first-rate performances, the cobwebs are blown off our preconceptions and a character is redefined.
Home and Beauty  Geraldine McEwan provided a neat and excellently sustained caricature; as fragile as the froth on a pint of Black Velvet, but with a voice calculated to break plate-glass at two hundred yards.  Hugh Leonard--Plays and Players

The Provok'd Wife   Sunday Times, Guardian
Keyboard Skills (dirctor)
Four Door Saloon (director)
The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie
The Chairs   McEwan is flawless. The knee-trembler she enjoys with one of the invisible guests is a masterpiece of raunchy energy.

The Chairs   New York Times: Vincent Canby

The Browning Version  Geraldine McEwan does not overdo the wife's bogus grand connections or her heavy hints on the servant problem. Nor, when the couple are left alone, does she slip into the viper routine. Rather they both slump into weary monosyllabic exhanges in which she presents an almost sleepwalking detachment from a life which gives her nothing she wants. As a result, when she does emit a quietly malicious laugh, and runs a knife through her husband's most cherished illusion, the moment freezes the blood.

Vanity Fair   Nine reviews
Geraldine McEwan ~ A Career in Theatre, Film & Television
HAY FEVER:
The great joy - and believe me joy is the right word - is that Geraldine McEwan makes a truly divine Mrs Bliss. With her corncrake voice and natural daffiness, she bats her lines off the walls with fabulous theatricality. It's like watching Greta Garbo acting after 15 sherries and a bottle of happy pills. Ms McEwan also adds the idea that Mrs Bliss is certifiable or at least, a couple of cheese straws short of a cocktail party. She gets lovely support from Malcolm Sinclair as the ineffably calm guest and Scott Handy playing Sandy Tyrell. Sylvestra Le Touzel is the hearty Myra Arundel and with Monica Dolan and Peter Blythe as the younger Blisses there's a first-rate ensemble with Cathryn Bradshaw, too, as the frightfully common guest on whom Coward vents his trademark snobbery. If Hay Fever is about anything it's a celebration of the sheer joy of behaving badly. It does it with style in the baronial splendour of Nick Ormerod's gothic set, while Declan Donnelan directs the action in the spirit of a revue. A comic Hay Fever to make your eyes run.
"...Thanks to McEwan's scandalously camp, delectable performance, the comic incongruity in Noel Coward's Hay Fever between Judith, the wily old thesp planning yet another comeback, and Judith in supposedly resigned and gracious rustic retirement, has never been more acute. Frolicking around like a deranged sprite, throatily emoting like Joan Greenwood in overdrive, McEwan swans and swoons across the furniture, projecting fatal allure and compassionate regretfulness at its effects - both equally spurious. She has all the genuine feyness of an electronic calculator... Declan Donnellan's hilariously over-the-top production gives us a flashback to her glory days - a dreadful performance of the hoary melodrama she intends to revive... Where bad manners and displays of "artistic" temperament are concerned, Donnellan vigorously ups the pollen count, creating a madhouse in which bananas are proffered instead of cucumber sandwiches, reducing civilised ritual to a chimps' tea party. One would rather weekend with the Macbeths than with the Bliss children, whose un-house-trained weirdness is joltingly conveyed by Monica Dolan and Stephen Mangan. All in all, a Hay Fever not to be sneezed at."    The Express

Few actresses would survive such a strategy and still look beguiling, sexy, exasperating, silly and dangerous. Geraldine McEwan does.....Donnellan knows what Coward knew, which is that great comedy is like fliscal policy: "if it doesn't hurt, it doesn't work."   The Sunday Times ---Douglass H. Jeffrey

It's very hard to single out performers, as all are superb in their respective roles. However, Geraldine McEwan is phenomenally funny as Judith Bliss. Her movements are mesmorizing, particularly when playing a drunk with her bottom stuck in the air. A very funny performance, indeed!  London Review -- Darren Dagliesh

Geraldine Mcewan seizes her chances, not only with her timelessly seductive voice, but with eyes, gestures and elegant legs, twisting hard so that everyone is firmly in her grip.   Peter Hepple

The best performance I've ever seen:
Greta Scacchi - The Observer, Sunday 15 May 2011
Hay Fever, Savoy theatre, London, 1999
Interview by Gemma Kappala-Ramsamy

Those of us who are professional aficionados of Noël Coward delight in the subtle quality of his dialogue, humour and characters. In Cheek by Jowl's version of his play Hay Fever, Geraldine McEwan played Judith Bliss, the matriarch of the household, an ageing belle and one-time actress. She's theatrical, irresponsible, a hopeless mother; quite full of herself but in a lovable way.

Geraldine has the qualities of a little bird. She's very English, nice and proper. But she has such guts, and she carried Declan Donnellan's direction right through to an extreme that was just brilliant.

To explore the mad desires of this woman, Geraldine extended the essence of Judith Bliss into other realms. There's a little dialogue where Judith sits on a sofa and flirts with a young man. Of course she's having a drink, so Geraldine got the character to have a bit too much and fall over herself, hopelessly trying to seduce him. She did this acrobatic drunken tumble from the sofa, and somehow or other, even though she rolled and rolled, the dainty little champagne glass remained upright and her champagne remained unspilt. It was sensational and hilarious.

I think the critics thought it was sacreligious to expand on what's considered a classic. But Donnellan really turned it into exciting, present-day theatre, and I just adored Geraldine for doing it. She's one of our unsung greats, adored by other actors.

When I was young I played Judith Bliss at drama school. I thought, one day I want to have this role! You watch performances sometimes and think, "I can do better than that." But a bit of actor jealousy comes in occasionally, where you see things and you no longer feel any envy or criticism because you are in awe at what they are doing on stage. I think I will be afraid to play Judith Bliss now, after seeing Geraldine's.


MAGDALENE SISTERS    Chicago Tribune:  Michael Wilmington
A fierce, brilliant film that breaks (and then mends) your heart, Peter Mullan's "The Magdalene Sisters" is based on the life stories of three young women sent in the mid-'60s to the convent laundries of the Magdalene Asylums, run by a sisterhood named, ironically enough, for the ex-whore who became a follower of Christ.
Once there, the three girls meet the film's great character and villainess, Sister Bridget, a sweetly smiling martinet played with deadly insight and total command by classical actress and director Geraldine McEwan. The entire cast of "Magdalene Sisters," down to the smallest parts (one of which, a cruel father, is played by Mullan himself), is superb, nearly flawless. But Sister Bridget makes this movie, just as Charles Laughton's Captain Bligh made the 1935 "Mutiny on the Bounty." She becomes the perfect embodiment of an evil system, the Magdalene Asylums in full flower. A believer in the fall from grace and the essential evil of men and women, Sister Bridget has an absolute chilly certainty about her right to exploit these "fallen souls." McEwan and Mullan reveal an edge of jealousy when Bridget taunts the prettier girls like Bernadette, suggesting ex-schoolgirl payback of some kind. They also cannily show her public sentimentality: the way she cries with happiness at a screening of "The Bells of St. Mary's" (a movie I love myself). And they strip away the masks over her vice and rage: Sister Bridget, seduced by greed, hoards the laundry profits and goes almost unhinged when her safe key is lost -- another example of the ways the nuns, in their secret world, abandon Christian selflessness.  
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MAGDALENE SISTERS    The Guardian:   Peter Bradshaw
Friday February 21, 2003
This extraordinary film is celluloid incendiarism, rabble-rousing cinema with a delirious, delicious edge of black comedy which I estimate to be about 90-95% intentional. Director Peter Mullan's debut feature Orphans had the same explosive seriocomic combination. Then, as now, he's putting out the fire of emotional pain with the gasoline of satire and scorn.
Margaret, Rose and Bernadette are entrusted to the untender mercies of Sister Bridget, a simply glorious performance from Geraldine McEwan, the glitteringly cruel and cantankerous empress of emotional sadism.
Mullan has the directorial power and stamina of a bareknuckle fighter coming out of his corner for round after round, landing crunching bodyblows. This is tough, angry, muscular film-making - it has a kind of 120-degree proof passion which makes most other Irish and British cinema look tame and lame.
But there's something else here too: a compulsive and slightly gamey Theatre of Cruelty which sometimes does not obviously occupy the moral high ground. The Sisters are always getting beaten. Mullan himself has a ferocious cameo as a father who drags his errant daughter into the Laundry and gives her a good hiding with his belt, while Sister Bridget looks on - Christian charity perceptible only in the fact that he spares her the buckle end. Two girls get their bare legs whipped with a cane by Sister Bridget who, on another occasion, switches to the strap to give Rose a merciless thrashing which is interrupted by the news that an elderly inmate has died. "May God have mercy on her soul," says Bridget, shifting gear smoothly into cooing piety - a superb moment, at once comic and chilling. They are all ceaselessly humiliated, made in one scene to parade naked for the gigglingly cruel nuns who decide who has the biggest breasts and hairiest private parts - and Mullan does not scruple to show them all in full frontal so we can assess the accuracy of these verdicts. It may be questionable, but it certainly shows the warped and thwarted sexualisation of this institutional cruelty.
Ever since Mullan won the Golden Lion at Venice last year with this film, the Vatican has obligingly been furious, sniping at it for being sensational anti-clericalism; anti-Catholicism is the anti-Semitism of the educated left, they say, and the movie will play to middlebrow secular prejudice. But it would be massively obtuse not to acknowledge the grotesque and terrible injustice the Magdalene Laundries represented, and what a blazingly and compellingly powerful indictment this film is. Mullan has got fine, honest performances from his cast, and McEwan deserves every award going: it's a scandal that she hasn't been recognised by the Bafta voters. The rest of us can vote with our feet - and go and see this film.
























The Chairs     A review by Vincent Canby, New York Times
'If you have any doubt that life and laughter are still to be found in the seminal comedies of Eugène Ionesco, you can't afford to miss Simon McBurney's splendid revival of the Chairs (1951), which is now in a limited run at the John Golden Theatre. The London hit has arrived safely, suffering no mal d'air en route. Its stars are still Geraldine McEwan and Richard Briers, whose performances mesmerised London last season; even its astonishing breakaway set, designed by the Quay Brothers, remains intact. . If you have any doubt that life and laughter are still to be found in the seminal comedies of Eugène Ionesco, you can't afford to miss Simon McBurney's splendid revival of the Chairs (1951), which is now in a limited run at the John Golden Theatre. The London hit has arrived safely, suffering no mal d'air en route. Its stars are still Geraldine McEwan and Richard Briers, whose performances mesmerised London last season; even its astonishing breakaway set, designed by the Quay Brothers, remains intact.
Ionesco? The Chairs? You thought that they were footnote to history? It's time to reconsider.

At the centre of The Chairs, and virtually alone on stage from start to finish, are the Old Man (Mr Briers), a fussy, somewhat pompous janitor given to self-pity, and his wife, the Old Woman (Ms McEwan), an ancient bag of bones who lovingly supports her mate as if on automatic pilot. He's her "poppet." She's Semiramis, often called "petty-pie."
Some may find The Chairs too funny to be taken seriously, but Ionesco is a grave humorist. The Old Man and Old Woman have been married for centuries, or maybe only 70 years. There is talk about missed opportunities as well as about children, but no consensus whether they ever had any. For all their disagreements, there is something bracing about the tenacity with which they try to make order out of the chaos, about the way they confront the murk of lives no longer remembered. Their intimacy is terminable. The setting: a great, barren, multi-doored space, possibly a lighthouse at the edge of a watery nighttime universe. When the lights come up, the Old Man is looking out of a window, facing the audience. We hear the vice of Old Woman, who warns he might fall in. "Remember what happened to Henry the Seventh", she calls. "Spare me your historical examples", he says not unkindly. "I'm sick to death of Tudor History." In this way the seductive Ionesco hallucination begins.
The Old Man has prepared a message for mankind, his last will and testament, which will be delivered this night to an invited audience by a hired orator. As the hour approaches, the Old Woman frets. Has he invited all the right people? Chemists? Violinists? Troublemakers? Boilermakers? Spin doctors? Post-Marxists? Neo Nazis? Pope Paul and the popular press? The Old Man says he has. Maybe, she suggests, there is still time to cancel the invitations.
Her nervousness infects him, but before they can share that fear, the guests start arriving. They come singly and in small groups, then in a steady stream, finally in a kind of onslaught, like the Normandy invasion. Among them: the Old Man's first love, called "the Fabled Beauty," over whom he swoons as he notes "hair still cascading over the patches of pink scalp." The Old Woman is much taken by the Fabled Beauty's husband and allows him liberties not often exercised in public. There is also the Field Marshal, a boorish type who makes a pass at a serious young woman.
As the guests accumulate, the Old Man greets them and tries to keep order. In a brilliantly choreographed slapstick sequence, the Old Woman moves in and out of the wall of doors with mounting desperation as she attempts - fruitlessly - to meet the demand for chairs. At last, when the stage is wall-to-wall with chairs, the Emperor, called "King of Kings" by the Old Man, makes a dazzling entrance. Though the other guests are invisible, he (or should it be He?) is a burst of blinding light straight into the eyes of the audience.
In addition to the Old Man and Old Woman, the only other actor who appears is the Orator (Mick Barnfather), who turns out to be a mime and a mute.
The Chairs runs barely 90 minutes without an intermission and is usually accompanied by The Lesson, another, shorter, Ionesco piece, McBurney's revival, a co-production of the Royal Court Theatre and the Theatre de Complicite (of which he is the artistic director), is played alone to optimum effect.
In Martin Crimp's excellent English translation, Ionesco's French text works on the mind and emotions like a fugue. "Oh, God," says the Old Man, "It's so hard to put things into words... yet everything must be spoken." Themes are introduced, retired, then reappear in slightly altered form. The old man wants to put his thoughts "into inevitable-sounding words." The Old Woman tries to be helpful, "once you've started, it'll sound inevitable enough - like living and dying."
Mr Crimp's language, which is both precise and marvellously askew, captures what I take to be Ionesco's idea that words have a kind of half life, like uranium. You might think Ionesco had overdosed on American talk radio, the more that words are spoken, the more loosely they are used, the less they mean, their definitions becoming increasingly dim without ever completely disappearing. It's as if we comprehend life through a succession of approximations that fade with time.
Mr Briers, one of England's finest character actors, is superbly comic and moving as a very old man facing the end of a dreary life with uncertain fortitude. When he slips into a crying jag, longing for his mummy, the old Woman slips into her mummy mode and brings him back, if only to be alone.
Most Americans will remember Ms McEwan as the elegant, scheming Lucia in the Mapp and Lucia miniseries. She is almost unrecognisable here as a slovenly, raffish old crone, her hair a thinning fright wig, her body so bendable it seems to be constructed of pipe cleaners.
Watch her as she races about, Groucho-like, fetching chairs, or in a more intimate moment, as she accepts the erotic advances of the Fabled Beauty's husband. Hers is a bold, miraculously funny and complete performance. The voice runs up and down the scales in great swoops of unbridled, matchless theatricality. When she gives the Old Man a peck on the cheek, the kiss can be heard in the top balcony.
Ms McEwan and Mr Briers were made for each other.
Mr McBurney, who staged the Theatre de Complicite's Three Lives of Lucie Cabrol at Lincoln Center two years ago, is clearly another London director to keep track of. Though his production of The Chairs looks effortless, it is actually a most delicate mix of text and performances with hugely complicated sound, lighting and scenic designs. The Chairs is theatre as spectacle in the manner of a fine one-ring circus. It delights the imagination without exhausting the patience.'
Vincent Canby - The New York Times, March 1998    

The Rivals
Geraldine McEwan's Mrs. Malaprop is hilarious precisely because she takes language so seriously and searches so hard for le mot juste. Fastidious and throaty, she pauses fractionally before each misplaced epithet as if ransacking her private lexicography: it is like seeing a demolition expert trying to construct a cathedral. My only cavil would be that she hardly qualified as "a weather-beaten old she-dragon'" and that, in spurning her at the end, both Acres and Sir Lucius seem oddly myopic. The Guardian-- Michael Billington

If ever a performance deserved to go out with a bang, it is Geraldine McEwan's as a precieuse a little unsure of her own pretensions. Each of her verbal coinages is delivered with faultless bravado (the number of laughs extracted by author and actress from what is essentially the same joke is amazing), but each is surrounded by an apparatus of doubt. 'Am I going to get this right? Is that what I mean? Didn't I do well?'  Miss McEwan finds a whole subtext in a verbal tic.   
Observer -- Robert Cushman

Above all, Geraldine McEwan as the queen of the dictionary, has embellished her role with care and loving detail. With needling eye, snarling pout and shaking head, this quintessential harridan pauses thoughtfully before selecting each precise wrong word. With this goes a stupefying complacency and even  some new Malapropisms.   Daily Telegraph---John Barber

Mrs. Malaprop was just one of Sheridan's great gifts to the English comedy, but her ability to find the wrong word for every occasion can seldom have found such a delightful exponent as Geraldine McEwan.  Wall Street Journal --- Ned Chaillet

McEwan's Malaprop is like Sisyphus with his stone, forever flexing her mental muscles, seizing on intransigent words, and trying to shove them into impossible places. It is a task that understandably brings her moments of self-doubt, even panic, and when she thinks she's accomplished it, the relief on that solemn, superior face of hers is marvelous to see. It is a lovely performance. New Statesman - Benedict Nightingale
The Way of the World (1995)
McEwan gives quite the most gloriously silly performance in London. Many actresses would be upstaged by the costume, but with growling, simpering, tittering excess, McEwan finds a Knightsbridge ghastliness to match. When fretting how best to look when Sir Rowland arrives--'nothing more alluring than a levee from the couch in some confusion' --McEwan spins out into realms of pure comic vanity. We don't care what she does, we just don't want her to stop. 
Independent on Sunday -- Robert Butler

In the late sixties she was a radiant Millamant; now she has expanded into the older woman, whom she plays as shrewd, skittish and lustful. As in all first-rate performances, the cobwebs are blown off our preconceptions and a character is redefined.  My objections pale at the sight of McEwan tottering about the stage on her elegant legs in a state of flushed sexual excitment. 
The Guardian-- Michael Billington

McEwan gives one of those subtle, agile, exquisitely and heartbreakingly funny performances that you will be able to recall and savour for years to come. She wears a kind of cut-a-way robe that, as it parts, reveals a pair of delicious legs. Physically, McEwan's performance is a hilarious blend of aged delicacy and irrepressible desire. Spiritually (and you can use the word about her acting without embarrassment), she draws a portrait of a poor, lost, dim creature, touchingly eager and preposterously gullible. McEwan has found the real centre of this sad creature. 
Sunday London Times--John Peter, October 29, 1995        

SHE may be 85, but Dame Muriel Spark has not lost her fire. In an interview to be broadcast on Christmas Day, she holds forth on the current state of Zimbabwe, runs a critical eye over the actors who have played her most famous creation, and says she still feels guilty when she takes a day off.
Dame Muriel, one of the grande dames of English literature and the creator of the Prime of Miss Jean Brodie, also said she plans an appearance at the world's biggest literature festival in Edinburgh next year.
Although it is yet to be officially confirmed, The Herald understands that Dame Muriel, who has never appeared at the Edinburgh International Book Festival, is intending to attend the 21st anniversary festival in August.
The author, now based in Italy, has not been to Edinburgh, where she was born and educated, and where she set her most famous novel, for three years.
However, in a two-part interview to be broadcast by the BBC on Christmas Day and Boxing Day, Dame Muriel confirms she will be returning to the city in August 2004.
An appearance at the book festival would tie in with the release of her new novel, the Finishing School, in March next year. "I haven't been to Edinburgh for the last three years, but I'm going to come again in August to do various things," she says in the interview.
"One doesn't know if I might have been better (to grow up) somewhere else, but that's how it was.
"But I do know I have the (Scottish) work ethic, I do feel very guilty still at the age of 85 if I haven't done a day's work  it's ridiculous, but there it is.
"My personality is certainly Scottish, whether I like it or not. I had no other influence. I am Scottish by formation."
In the interview, in which Dame Muriel speaks with Clare English, the Arts Show presenter, she runs the rule over the actors who have played her most famous literary character on stage, television, and screen.
She concludes that Geraldine McEwan, who starred in a 1978 television series based on the 1961 novel, was the closest to her ideal Jean Brodie.
Maggie Smith who won an Oscar for Best Actress in 1970 for the role, failed to merit a mention.
"There's a different aspect in every one," Dame Muriel said.
"Anna Massie and Vanessa Redgrave were really very good, and Zoe Caldwell in New York, they were all brilliant in their ways. But Geraldine McEwan really got the essence of it, probably because she had more time and space in it. She has more scope to express herself."
The Herald, December 23, 2003     
LOVES LABOURS LOST      
Nicholas K. Davis
Indeed, the first problem with Love's Labour's Lost that makes it difficult to stage effectively is that the plots and counter-plots between the evenly matched men and women become a little too sealed off into their own hermetic world. Unlike later, more intricate comedies like Twelfth Night or Much Ado About Nothing (the latter of which Branagh filmed so ebulliently in 1993), the one-to-one matches between this play's lovers blocks all suspense as well as most of the audience's access into the story. Branagh's formal contrivance, then, of blending the play-text with the conventions of 1930s Hollywood musicals, creates an energizing capacity for surprise in a story that otherwise leaves little to question. We all know, or mostly know, who will end up with whom, and when, so Branagh poses a whole new set of kooky uncertainties: When will the cast suddenly burst into song, and what tune will they belt out? (The numbers are all cribbed from the established canons of Irving Berlin, Cole Porter, and the Gershwins.) When will the action suddenly change to a pool, a tent, or, as in one silly/entrancing sequence, into midair?
And will Alicia Silverstone and Matthew Lillard, the most obvious greenthumbs in the cast, ever pull off a well-pitched note or a convincing pirouette? The answer to this last question is generally, no, and I will admit that I was occasionally uncertain what Love's Labour's Lost had to gain from casting actors this improbable (or, maybe I'm just tired of Lillard's uncontrolled hysterics.) After all, if Love's Labour's Lost seems designed as a half-tribute, half-tweak of early movie musicals, the new film seems more on target skewering the structure of those predecessors, which anyone would concede was often inane, than the talent of the performers, which was generally quite high. Besides, the spark of seeing a real dancer like Lester (why isn't this man working more often?) or of hearing Geraldine McEwan's expert iambic timing as crusty tutor Holofernia (a change from the play's Holofernes) makes it hard for a while to extend benefit of the doubt to Silverstone's mushmouthed deliveries.    
Home and Beauty with David Ryall
Vanity Fair Reviews
The cast is uniformly good, even when dealing with sudden mood changes forced by the screenwriters' need to move forward. Geraldine McEwan makes an especially tasty meal of Lady Southdown, whose mewings of disapproval stand for all the catty superciliousness of the British upper class - an upper class, Nair knows, that kept her homeland in polite servitude for centuries.    The Charlotte Observer

For all the confusing shifts in tone and characterisation, there is plenty to admire here. The detailed production design and Declan Quinn's cinematography evoke Thackeray's London as a seething, dirty city, with pigs on the streets. Julian Fellowes (of Gosford Park fame) fills his screenplay with acerbic one-liners - some borrowed from the novel, some his own invention. And the film is full of memorable turns by familiar character actors: Gabriel Byrne's roué marquess of Steyne, Jonathan Rhys Meyers' vain popinjay George Osborne, Bob Hoskins' slovenly Sir Pitt Crawley, Jim Broadbent's snobbish miser and Geraldine McEwan and Eileen Atkins' clucking, malevolent old biddies.
The Guardian, Geoffrey Macnab, Monday September 6, 2004

There's much to savor here, nonetheless, especially in the more satiric first half, when Becky becomes governess to the children of the endearingly gross Sir Pitt Crawley (Bob Hoskins), and the Crawleys' acerbic spinster aunt Matilda (Eileen Atkins) enters the scene. Taking the ambitious Becky under her wing, she whisks her off to Mayfair. Deliciously eccentric, Atkins steals every scene she's in (though Geraldine McEwan as Lady Southdown gives her a good run for her money). © 2004 Newsweek, Inc

For Witherspoon, the role is full of challenges. She's on screen for virtually every scene of a two hours-plus film, and her character ages about 20 years in the course of the story. Orphaned at an early age, sent to work at a finishing school in exchange for an education, Becky takes a job as a governess, becomes a companion to a wealthy viper (a brittle, funny Geraldine McEwan) and then, just as she thinks she's making headway in society, infuriates her mentor and finds herself back out on the street.  CONTRA COSTA TIMES   Sep. 01, 2004

The supporting cast list reads like a who's who of fine English actors. Bob Hoskins thoroughly enjoys himself as the degenerate Sir Pitt Crawley, and Gabriel Byrne practically slithers through his scenes as the coldblooded Lord Steyne. As duplicitous aristocrats, Geraldine McEwan and Eileen Atkins make themselves indispensable in just a couple of scenes each.  Cleveland Plain Dealer  Ohio

The film, shot in fifty-five days on $23 million, is helped by outstanding performances by Reese Witherspoon, James Purefoy and Gabriel Byrne. The most dynamic characters were the supporting cast. Eileen Atkins is positively brilliant as the spinster Matilda. She embodies her role with such passion that it is absolutely hilarious. Geraldine McEwan, whom you may remember as Sister Bridget in "The Magdalene Sisters," is also quite the colorful character. The ever-fabulous Jim Broadbent is  ever fabulous. URBAN INSIDER        by Crystal English

There are many fine performances: Witherspoon deploys a convincing British accent and attacks her role with verve and precision. Dame Eileen Atkins (as wealthy spinster Matilda Crawley) and Geraldine McEwan (snobbish Lady Southdown) go off like grenades of snidely disdain -- Atkins also contributes a daring snippet of comic nudity -- while Bob Hoskins (fusty Sir Pitt Crawley) and Jim Broadbent (wealthy merchant Osborne) offer expertly rendered supporting tidbits. Daily Herald     Eagle Mountain, Utah   -Cody Clark
 
Thackeray was great with names - Lady Jane Sheep- shanks, Steyne (pronounced "stain"), Pitt Crawley (a hilarious Douglas Hodge), Amelia's faithful William Dobbin (Rhys Ifans) and, of course, the Bareacres. Nair ("Salaam Bombay!" "Mississippi Masala") is far better with actors than she is with open spaces: Eileen Atkins is superb as the imperious hypocrite Matilda Crawley; Geraldine McEwan (the evil nun of "Magdalene Sisters") is a chirpy, twerpy Lady Southdown. And Witherspoon, of course, is a force of nature. Copyright © 2004, Newsday, Inc.

A number of cameo appearances enliven the film. Eileen Atkins ("Gosford Park") is hilarious as Rawdon's aunt, a woman who likes to think that she's open-minded. Bob Hoskins ("Enemy at the Gates") gets laughs as an aristocrat with a title but no money. Jim Broadbent ("Iris") tears into his role of a bitter merchant with money but no title. Geraldine McEwan ("The Magdalene Sisters") is brilliantly sour as a meddling biddy with a fondness for making tonics. Unforgettable Kelly Hunter ("The Luzhin Defence") is heartbreaking as a humiliated wife with a merciful streak. Times Picayune   September 01, 2004    Michael H. Kleinschrodt    

Reviews
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Lettice and Lovage
Hay Fever
A Flea in Her Ear -- by Alec McCowen in his book "Double Bill" 1980

'The best performance of a farce which I have ever seen in England was directed by a Frenchman, Jacques Charon. This was the National Theatre Production of A Flea in Her Ear, which I saw early on in its run. In particular I can still vividly recall the amazing tragic frenzy of Geraldine McEwan and Frank Wylie, but there were at least half a dozen performances played with the energy and seriousness demanded of King Lear.'

The Provok'd Wife

Sunday Times - 02/11/80
The play has been tinkered with, and it turns out that some of what one imagines at first to be Vanbrugh's amazing modernity is in fact the product of the director's amazing nerve. Never mind, John Wood made me laugh till I cried, in the course of his first speech. Geraldine McEwan ditto.

The Guardian, Michael Billington, October 29, 1980
John Wood's Sir Brute, a dissolute dandy, is particularly fine in a scene where he returns home stinking and bedraggled to find two young gallants hiding in his closet: his great, gaunt frame sags, his voice assumes a quiet indignation and he sinks into drunken snores from which he fitfully stirs at the dread mention of marriage. It is a moving and funny performance excellently partnered by Geraldine McEwan's Lady Brute who is like a porcelain shepherdess with a sexual itch and a sly mastery at uncovering innuendo.  
Mulberry