Since George Clooney and his rat pack seem to be bringing back a certain cachet to Italy's Lake Como, it's worth revisiting this picture-postcard pretty 1995 romantic comedy directed by John Irvin since it is set there before the onset of WWII. The lightweight plot focuses on a beautiful, elegant villa in the summer of 1937 where Miss Bentley has already spent sixteen summers with her father. Adored by the staff, she spends her first summer there after her father has died, and on her first day, she is immediately drawn to the polite but rather pompous Major Wilshaw. In typical movie-only fashion, they meet repeatedly, awkwardly and fractiously, in particular, over a tennis match where she defeats the major with ease in front of a most enthusiastic group. There is unavoidable but unspoken chemistry between the two, but further complications ensue with the arrival of Miss Beaumont, the young, flirtatious nanny of a wealthy Italian family staying at the villa. Miss Beaumont manages to convince Wilshaw that she loves him, and he becomes instantly enamored. On her side, Miss Bentley attracts the attention of a much younger admirer named Vittorio, a local Vespa-riding lothario intent on seducing her amid his raging hormones.
As you can imagine, the complications sort themselves out, but the clever way that Irvin and screenwriter Trevor Bentham handle the story, while patently old-fashioned, is also charming and sometimes quite perceptive about how more mature people approach love. In a rare comedic turn that immediately recalls Kate Hepburn circa 1955's "Summertime", Vanessa Redgrave redefines any preconceived image one would have of a spinster, as she brings buoyant energy and a blessed lack of self-consciousness to the independent Miss Bentley. Even though she makes no attempt at assimilating into the period with her most contemporary look, she shows off a deft skill for romantic foreplay for likely the first time since she was a mod swinger in the 1960's with movies like "Morgan!". Her athleticism is also impressive whether on the tennis court or in the lake swimming the backstroke, though her rather androgynous look wouldn't seem like it would attract the not altogether unwelcome attentions of horny Italian boys.
The other points of the triangle are not as fully drawn. Edward Fox plays the major with a stiff upper lip and glowers appropriately in every scene where he loses his dignity - which is often. Fresh off "Pulp Fiction", Uma Thurman plays a man-eating vamp in broad strokes, and her constant delight in humiliating the major gets tiresome. Her beauty, however, is inarguable and Wilshaw's obsession understandable. There is some intriguing casting on the sidelines - as the moony Vittorio, Alessandro Gassman (son of actor Vittorio Gassman) would play the viral maniac in "Transporter 2" a decade later; and the proprietress of the villa, Signora Fascioli, is played by Alida Valli 46 years after her seductive turn as Harry Lime's lover Anna in Carol Reed's "The Third Man" with only her still-sultry eyes recognizable (sadly she passed away today - April 22, 2006). The beauty of Lake Como is captured in all its shimmering light by cinematographer Pasqualino De Santis, and Nicola Piovani's music score provides the right evocative flavor for the period. It's a sweet, entertaining movie, brief at 91 minutes, and definitely for viewers fond of travelogue movies like Mike Newell's "Enchanted April" and Audrey Wells' "Under the Tuscan Sun". The 2003 DVD has no extras.