Precision-tooled for the Tuesday afternoon crowd it may be, but Finding Your Feet nevertheless does what it says on the tin, and does it expertly.
Laughs, tears and mid-life awakenings abound in this feature from Richard Loncraine (The Special Relationship) starring Imelda Staunton, Timothy Spall, Celia Imrie and a scene-stealing Joanna Lumley as members of an amateur dance troupe in London.
A romantic comedy fronted by leads nobody would mistake for matinee idols and imbued with all the more pathos for it, this self-aware heart-tugger manages to make even rickety old cliches about taking a “leap of faith” easily digestible.
Staunton plays Sandra, introduced prattling on about the range and categories of honors bestowed by the Queen. Her husband Mike (John Sessions) has just retired as police commissioner and Sandra is basking in his ascension to the peerage and her newfound status as a Lady.
All their friends are assembled for Mike’s retirement party at the couple’s palatial Tudor house in Surrey, but when Sandra finds him in the arms of her longtime friend Pamela (Josie Lawrence) in the garage, she packs her bags and lands on the East London doorstep of Bif (Imrie), the free-spirited older sister she hasn’t seen in 10 years.
Sandra’s hauteur immediately bumps up against the dry playfulness of handyman Charlie (Spall), her sister’s friend, who lives on a houseboat in Maida Vale after selling his home to pay for the care of his wife Lilly (Sian Thomas), who is suffering from dementia.
Charlie and his widower neighbour Ted (David Hayman) shake off their grief at a dance class in the town hall, where they’re joined by Bif as well as Jackie, an inveterate divorcee and former barrister played by Lumley, who gets most of Nick Moorcroft and Meg Leonard’s juiciest lines (“My husband and I had religious disagreements. He thought he was God, I didn’t.”)
The Mary Wesley world of country tennis and sexual repression that Sandra has escaped lingers on in her disdain for others, with Staunton having a grand old time playing up the character’s snobbishness.
She used to be a lot of fun, Bif assures Charlie, who finds himself paired with Sandra on the dance floor. A slimmed-down Spall makes for a sympathetic romantic lead, distraught at his wife’s failure to recognise him but aware that he needs to let her go.
Finding Your Feet was shot in 2016 and some of its cultural references (the ice-bucket challenge, “Gangnam Style”) are relics from a couple of years before that, though perhaps the datedness is the point. Sandra is only just catching up to the real world she left behind to play lady and the thawing of her relationship with her sister couldn’t have come too soon: Unbeknownst to her friends, Bif is dying of cancer.
Imrie is the film’s grounded emotional compass as the uninhibited ex-hippie who doesn’t own a cellphone, has never married and has the odd fling with women, including a fellow swimmer at the Hampstead pond she exercises in every morning, even in winter.
After a charity dance in Piccadilly Circus goes viral, the group is invited to perform in Rome, and Loncraine and DP John Pardue whizz from Piazza Navona to the Trevi to the Ponte Sant’Angelo, where a teary Bif tells her sister about the Italian beau she loved but lost.
Charlie finally entreats them to turn in (to go to “Bedfordshire,” as he puts it, in a tossed-off moment of corny-but-knows-it charm that’s characteristic of the entire thing) so they’re fresh for the next day’s performance.
The freeze-frame on which the film concludes feels wholly of a piece, the baldly sentimental colliding with a gag, and as old-fashioned as the waltz. Like the classic romantic comedies whose structure the pic apes with crafty precision, this one cuts off on a high, and just before the cold bath of reality intrudes. The