Seventeen year-old Ben Marshall (Grint) spends the school holidays working as an assistant to potty old actress Evie (Walters). Her bohemian world is a welcome break from home life with his overbearing mother (Linney) and weak vicar father (Farrell).
If all else fails, get old people to swear. The odd F-word in the mouth of a pensioner is always good for a giggle. Up the stakes to the dreaded c-word uttered by an actress who is a national treasure, and you may well have struck comedy gold. At least that’s what writer-director Jeremy Brock is hoping for, as Julie Walters in her opening scene lets loose a stream of foul language that would make Quentin Tarantino’s ears burn.
Walters dominates Driving Lessons to such an extent that the film dries up when she’s not on screen. She’s a force of nature whose deft handling of Evie’s comic eccentricities and emotional wounds raises her far above her co-stars. But Evie is a character in search of a film that’s strong enough to contain her — and sadly this isn’t it.
Ben is obviously Brock’s alter-ego (the director spent a teenage summer in the company of Dame Peggy Ashcroft) so we’re not supposed to argue when we’re told that he has the soul of a poet. The fact that Ben’s verse is pretty much of the same standard as any adolescent undergoing a coming-of-age experience suggests that a bit more objectivity on Brock’s part would have served his film better.
Grint does his Ron Weasley thing, looking abashed and apologising profusely, while the usually outstanding Linneys overwrought anguish seems to belong to another movie. But all this is irrelevant the BAFTA already has Walters' name etched on it.