Screenwriter: Jeremy Brock
Starring: Julie Walters, Rupert Grint, Laura Linney, Nicholas Farrell
Running time: 100 mins
Trailer: Quicktime 330k / Quicktime 850k / Realplayer 330k / Realplayer 850k / WMP 330k / WMP 850k
Ben (Grint) is an atypical 17-year-old, a budding young poet stifled from the usual pursuits of teenagers by a conservative Christian family - both he and his henpecked vicar father (Farrell) live under the rule of his matriarchal mother (Linney). His summer holiday looks likely to be comprised solely of good deeds in the community and taking driving lessons with said mother, but when he takes the job of general dogsbody to retired actress Dame Eve Walton (Walters), the pair begin a journey that will alter both of their lives irrevocably.
The directorial debut of Jeremy Brock, screenwriter of Mrs Brown, another film about a strong-willed woman, Driving Lessons is by and large a very impressive effort. Semi-autobiographical (himself a vicar's son, he took a similar job with Dame Peggy Ashcroft as a teenager), the film follows the effects which Evie, both a fragile drinker and a forceful, foul-mouthed battle-axe, has on the young and malleable Ben, wrenching him from the controlling clutches of his mother. Taking him from a monotonous life of bible classes, she forces him camping and on a road-trip to, coincidentally, the Edinburgh Book Festival where he learns to take the wheel over the direction of his own life.
The result is a heartwarming and hilarious rites of passage film, benefiting immeasurably from the always-magnificent Julie Walters, who naturally steals the show as Evie bringing both sensitivity and innumerable laughs to the role. Meanwhile Rupert Grint (who works with Walters in the Harry Potter movies), holds his own as the eternally put-upon Ben in a part well suited to him, proving that a career awaits him after he graduates from Hogwarts. Laura Linney, whilst really stuck with a caricature rather than a character, makes it an entertaining and convincing one nonetheless.
Driving Lessons isn't without its downsides, however. Ben's 'corruption' via a one-night-stand with Bryony (Michelle Duncan), though perhaps par for the course in a coming -of-age themed film, comes across unrealistic in light of his character and past. Equally, Brock's bizarre use of a cross-dressing houseguest of questionable mental state, and that character's effect on the denouement, also jars a little with the tone of the rest of the film.
All in all though, a wonderful debut with some formidable performances, Driving Lessons is both touching and raucously funny in equal measure.