Mrs. Caldicot’s Cabbage War (2002)

Before I write about the EON (Ealing Over 60 network) film session Mrs. Caldicot’s Cabbage War I would like to quote again the most outrageously sexist/ageist example in journalism that I have encountered in my extensive reading about films.  

At the end of one dire day of screenings, we critics once sat down to a horrible tear-jerker called Mrs. Caldicot’s Cabbage War. Pauline Collins played a lonely widow who is pathetically grateful to be given a nice lunch in a restaurant. She simpered: ‘I haven’t had many afternoons like this’. We have’ remarked the Observer’s Philip French drily. (The Guardian 17/12/2009)

It’s hard to imagine anyone under 60 judging this worth a trip to the cinema (ch4 film reviews) its target audience is undemanding oldies (Sunday Times) .  An old biddy campaigns against cabbage in an old folk’s home (Time out)”, Pauline Collins plays a geriatric Shirley Valentine in this senile comedy that’s well past its prime. (BBC film review)

About 10 mins in, I all but lost the will to live.  When it was scheduled on TV in December of the same year : We’ll have enough turkey on our plates without having it on the telly as well. Most people reading this will not, for example have seen Mrs. Caldicot’s Cabbage War, a horribly twee British comedy that came out this year starring Pauline Collins and John Alderton, about a feisty lady packed off to an old people’s home.

Yet in spite of the lack of reviews in Rotten Tomatoes and Metacritic  and no more than 6 critics on IMDB, the numbers of users on these sites are not negligible.  I wrote in December 2009 about the film when we showed it at the Lexi cinema for the U3A in Brent.  I was surprised when preparing for showing it at the EON film afternoon this month that the blog was viewed 324 times since 2010.  From 4 viewings in 2011 to 81 in 2015, 62 in 2016, 42 in 2017.   There is no doubt that the film is being appreciated as the audience at the EON session proved. 

There were 16 people present at the screening this month. The discussion was very lively and covered many issues about the fate of old people when forced to go to a retirement home.  Personally I  enjoyed the film in spite of having seen it many times and written about it.  

The opening scenes are complex and keep the attention alert trying to organise the flashbacks and present situations. One viewer remarked that action took a long time to come, another that the comedy was farcical, slapstick. But the general feeling expressed was that the abuse of old people in retirement or care homes was painful to watch. 

Personal experiences were recounted.  The lack of reviews was explained by the reluctance of many people to face their own ageing,  film critics included. The sexist attitudes of the husband, son, manager of the home, TV interviewer were commented on as being realistic. The appalling treatment of the residents  was commented on and deplored. Some said that they would not be happy to depend on their children and one woman quoted the advice of a lawyer not to leave the house, while alive, to the children.  

One member mentioned visits to a home that she found a pleasant experience. Another visited a very good home in Canada.   Atul Gawande’s (in  Being Mortal) prescription for retirement homes was quoted. 

I note that in 2009 I wrote a blog titled The ‘otherness’ of the older woman where I observed that there was little identification by the old women viewers with the old woman on screen. There may now be a change.  After all the EON group members have to be over 60 and there was no doubt that they  felt the film was relevant to their own experiences. 

About rinaross

Born in 1935. MA in Film and Television Studies at the University of Westminster 1998. Studying the representation of older women in film since then.
This entry was posted in Ageing, Ageism, audience responses, care homes, critics, family, FILM RECEPTION and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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