Dir: Sam Garbarski Bel-Ger-Lux-UK-Fr. 2007. 103mins

It may be the work of a German-born, Belgian-based director, but Euro co-production Irina Palm is a thoroughly British film at heart - the latest in that 'naughty-but-nice' vein of stories that delight in placing genteel English matrons in risque situations. Sam Garbarski's film casts Marianne Faithfull - doyenne UK icon of all that's louche and bohemian - as a well-meaning provincial grandmother who turns sex worker.

But leaden execution of a one-gag premise, together with ill-managed sentimentality, make Irina Palm a laborious dry hump, unlikely to join the classier ranks of British raunch-and-respectability romps such as Personal Services, Calendar Girls and Mrs Henderson Presents.

Appreciative laughter in the Berlin press show presages relatively healthy international sales, but in the UK and English-speaking territories, the threadbare dialogue, plus cliched references to alleged national prudishness, are likely to fall on stonier ground.

Faithfull plays Maggie, a widow living in a village near London, whose dull life is dominated by get-togethers with her genteel circle, including best friend Jane (Agutter).

But Maggie's young grandson Ollie is in hospital with a seemingly incurable disease. Treatment in Australia offers a ray of hope, but it'll cost, and the family's money is running out.

Trying to find a job, Maggie steps into a Soho sex club, thinking that being a hostess involves 'making tea and clearing up'; owner Miki (Manojlovic) sets her straight, but offers her a post anyway on the strength of her beautiful hands. The job involves manually pleasuring patrons through a peephole, and Maggie - alluringly renamed 'Irina Palm' - turns out to be a natural.

Although things subsequently get sticky (as it were) with family and friends, Maggie learns to take pride in her new identity - and even forms a promising bond with Miki.

A screamingly implausible narrative betrays a curiously decorous approach to sexuality, with Maggie's job representing a sort of idealised fantasy of prostitution without any real contact or danger: though we glimpse her clients, we never see a single penis, nor learn who's on the end of them.

And all the expected boxes are ticked re British mores: the point is brought home that Maggie's good intentions and pride in her work are far nobler than the suburban hypocrisy embodied by her friends.

Faithfull is intriguingly cast against type: but, best known for lofty elegance, she seems ill at ease with Maggie's gauche, dowdiness. Only Manojlovic seems in his element, as a wry and absolutely benign pimp. And while the script stands or falls on various verbal belly-laughs ('Here I am,' announces Maggie, 'the Wanking Widow'), the film's overall tone is solmenly downbeat, with morose music underscoring the pathos, and Christophe Beaucarne's lensing concentrating on dark hues more suited to a moodier art-house drama.

Soft-hearted undertones only prove that jerking and tear-jerking don't mix.

Production company
Entre Chien et Loup

International sales
Pyramide International

Sebastien Delloye

Martin Herron
Philippe Blasband

Christophe Beaucarne

Production design
Veronique Sacrez

Ludo Troch


Main cast
Marianne Faithfull
Miki Manojlovic
Kevin Bishop