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Audrey Kupferberg: 5 Flights Up

In the last year or two, love among the senior population has been more than evident in little and big-screen entertainments. 

DOWNTON ABBEY creator Julian Fellowes has had a very positive response from audiences who are relishing his recent subplots about love among the older Crawley women, as Maggie Smith’s character, Violet, Dowager Countess of Grantham, re-encountered Russian Prince Kuragin, and Penelope Wilton’s character, Lady Isobel, became the love interest of stately Lord Merton.

Shirley MacLaine and Christopher Plummer proved that late-life love affairs could be enriching in last year’s feature film, ELSA AND FRED.  And let’s not forget the EXOTIC MARIGOLD HOTEL films, which have been so popular that a third film surely is being discussed!

Years ago, on-screen romances between actors over 60 years of age were thought to be uncommercial.  Remember the 1975 TV movie starring Katharine Hepburn and Laurence Olivier?  Both screen legends were 68 at the time.  The title is indicative of the attitude towards romance at an older age; it was LOVE AMONG THE RUINS.

But older populations in the United States today enjoy seeing a good love story that reflects their generation.  And we have a slew of appealing actors who have passed 60 or 70, or even 80…  Judi Dench, Al Pacino, Robert De Niro, Ellen Burstyn, Jane Fonda, Lily Tomlin, Michael Douglas, Dustin Hoffman, Helen Mirren, and Richard Gere, to name a few. 

One of the most lively romantic feature films of this ilk recently was released to home markets.  It is called 5 FLIGHTS UP and stars Oscar-winners Diane Keaton and Morgan Freeman as a long and happily-wedded couple whose pied a terre is a Brooklyn walk-up apartment.   Since they are beginning to breathe heavily every time they have to climb the five flights of stairs to their door, they make a decision to sell their home and move to another apartment in New York City.  What makes this film so charming and entertaining is the wonderful interchange between Keaton and Freeman, and the way they build their characters.  There is such chemistry between them that their energy gives dimension to the relatively simple story.  Just watching them walk arm in arm on the street or pass glances at each other has genuine entertainment value.  Unlike so many other recent looks at newfound or temporary love at an older age, this couple is solid as concrete. 

Hollywood in the golden age of the studio system used to throw older female actors away. Bette Davis, Gloria Swanson, and Joan Crawford took jobs in horror films to stay active.  And, to demonstrate their romantic worth, older male actors, like Fred Astaire and Cary Grant, were teamed opposite twenty-something leading ladies. But things are different now. And even though Judi Dench seems to have lost her job as M in the James Bond series, we can foresee more great performances from her and other older actors, both female and male—and some of them will be in tales of romance!

Audrey Kupferberg is a film and video archivist and appraiser. She is the former Director of Film Studies at the University at Albany and has co-authored several entertainment biographies with her husband and creative partner, Rob Edelman.

The views expressed by commentators are solely those of the authors. They do not necessarily reflect the views of this station or its management.

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