James Mason plays an artist who has lost some of his spark. His work, hanging in bourgesis galleries is being evaluated less on it’s aesthetic, and more on how well it will fit in that open space above the fireplace.
Attempting to rejuvenate he retreats to a small island in Australia, where he meets a young Helen Mirren who inspires a late period spurt of creativity. While he in turn inspires in her the self confidence she needs to put the place, and her Gollum like horrible Alkie Grandmother in the rearview.
Had the movie stuck solely to Mason and his relationship with Mirren in this strange place; rekindling both the enjoyment of his art, while unmistakably passing the torch at the end of his career, Age Of Consent may have been a minor masterpiece. As well as a prescient metaphor about the relationship Powell would have with the American New Wave directors.
Unfortunately Powell decides to shoehorn in some rather broad comedy. When I say the film plays this material (and the scenes involving the Grandmother) Broad I mean BROAD. Everything is so shrill and so ugly and ungainly that I was tempted to think this film was directed by some other Michael Powell and was placed in a box set of his work on accident.
Mason’s boorish horny friend comes to the island accompanied by music better suited to a lesser Benny Hill vehicle. He runs around naked on the beach. Women stare at his dong. We also get plenty of comic interludes involving the hick islanders with the exaggeration turned up to eleven. In short a sensitive coming of age/graceful twilight film gets buried under Michael Powell’s Porkys.
And yet it can’t bury it completely.
Mason, who at this point in his career usually just set the temperature to “fey” and waited till the timer went off, is obviously as invested in the movie as Powell. Bringing a string of vulnerability to his artist along with his trademark wit and sophistication. (His Australian Accent wanders in and out at will though).
He's muse is played by a then unknown Helen Mirren. Helen Mirren’s late period hotness is such a matter of public record that it’s difficult to remember that she did not emerge from the womb a sexy septuagenarian. Yet here she is, in her debut roll, young and borderline feral (Also oft naked. But it’s Helen Mirren so that’s not really a surprise). It’s no wonder she inspires Mason, it’s not as simple as sex thing. Indeed that element is only introduced, somewhat awkwardly at the last possible moment, and only the leering theme song (sample lyrics "Cora Cora I love you so/As I've waited Cora and watched you grow/And now that you're reaching The Age of Consent/ The Talking is over/ Love me my Cora" GAH!) generates any real ickiness. It’s just that she has so much of what Mason used to have.
While the film doesn’t have Powell’s usual eye melting visual brilliance, he does bring a meditative air to the film. The best scenes are a pair of long dialogue free passages where the characters simply takes the alieness of their surroundings in. The first in which Mason explores the woods of the island under a canopy of chattering bats, the second a long dreamy underwater swim. In moments like these, and the sensitive story at its center Age Of Consent reveals itself to be a film that no one but Powell could make.
There’s a lovely movie here, you just need to crane your neck a bit to see it.