British actors are guaranteed a steady income after a certain age. This has nothing to do with the welfare state, but rather with the success of the “Best Exotic Marigold Hotel” pictures, which proved that movies could admit the existence of older people and still make money.
The latest example of this sub-industry is “Finding Your Feet,” a film with a formulaic outline but a pleasant mood. It opens with a shock for the priggish Sandra (Imelda Staunton): On the very day her husband (John Sessions) celebrates his knighthood, she discovers he’s planning to run off with his mistress.
And “Lady Sandra” had such a nice ring to it, too. Somewhat unbelievably, Sandra opts to move in with her estranged sister Bif (Celia Imrie), whose messy flat is a long way from Sandra’s pristine former life.
Bif, a free spirit, drags Sandra into her dance-performance group, where inhibitions and upper-class snobbery won’t fly. The motley crew includes snaggle-toothed Charlie (Timothy Spall, late of “The Party” and “Mr. Turner”), who lives on a canal boat and carries a secret.
As a piece of storytelling, “Finding Your Feet” doesn’t offer much credibility — the dance group is invited to perform at an arts festival in Rome? Really? But it comes to life, partly because of its shifting tones: death played for comedy, illness played straight, loneliness and regret acknowledged without having to be tidily resolved.
Director Richard Loncraine has done some decent work over the years, including the Ian McKellen “Richard III,” and he’s not one to soften the edges. That may explain why this movie isn’t content to merely tug at the heartstrings.
It does pull a few of those, of course, but its actors put a pinch of salt in the sugary recipe. Staunton can do cranky without turning it into a caricature, and Imrie (a veteran of the “Marigold” world) is always deft at suggesting mischief around the edges.
With the sardonic Spall around, there’s no danger the film will entertain fantasies about handsome Prince Charmings. And Joanna Lumley (taking a break from the “Absolutely Fabulous” world) and David Hayman provide witty support in the dance troupe.
“Finding Your Feet” doesn’t build to any profound revelations, and it has one bothersome plot point — withheld information that could easily have been shared — that rings completely false. Still, by providing good company with skilled, distinctive actors, it rises above the well-worn formula, and seems likely to follow in marigold-colored footsteps.
‘Finding Your Feet’ (3 stars)
A sturdy roster of U.K. actors gives this formulaic tale a sense of life. Imelda Staunton plays a jilted snob who moves in with her free-spirit sister (Celia Imrie); their dance-performance group provides a much-needed creative outlet. Timothy Spall and Joanna Lumley are in the cast of old pros.
Rating: PG-13, for language, subject matter
Opening: Pacific Place