I watched Driving Lessons today, a movie starring Julie Walters and Rupert Grint, who have also worked together in the Harry Potter films. It is a coming of age story in which Ben (Rupert Grint) takes a summer job as the escort of retired actress Dame Evie Walton (Julie Walters).
Ben, a shy and quiet boy, is completely dominated by his overprotective and deeply religious mother (played by the fabulous Laura Linney) who keeps him close to home, refusing to pay for driving lessons and teaching him to drive herself, as well as forcing him to perform as a tree in the Girl Guides play she is running at their church. His father (Nicholas Farrell), the local vicar, spends his spare time in his study reading books about birds, with his particular favourite being the skylark. Ben spends his time doing his mother’s bidding and mooning over a girl from his church called Sarah, who he writes poems for late at night.
It isn’t until Ben begins to work for the eccentric and irreverent Evie that he begins to come out of his shell. After a couple of failed attempts to quit owing to pressure from his mother “She’s an actress! I think that says enough!” and Evie’s unpredictability, Evie makes Ben recite Shakespeare with her and he admits to her that he writes poetry. “I’m a poet…I understand the power of words”.
The relationship that develops between Evie and Ben is lovely. Evie’s career is all but over and she lives alone, so she comes to rely on Ben, even to the point where she can’t perform at a recital unless he is there to steady her nerves. Ben’s confidence grows through Evie’s encouragement and he realises that there may be more to life than pretending to be a tree and driving lessons with his mother. He begins to stand up to her, going on a camping trip with Evie and driving her to Edinburgh without telling his mother where he is.
Favourite scenes include Evie swallowing the car key so that Ben can’t drive her home from their camping adventure “My dear boy! The key will back with us by morning! I’m as regular as clockwork”. Another involves the increasingly erratic behaviour by Mr Fincham, a mute man that Ben’s mother has taken into their home as he recovers after running over his wife. Watch out for him later in the film, the catalyst that leads to a few changes in Ben’s family life.
I was a little concerned when I began watching this that all I would be able to see was Ron Weasley whenever I looked at Rupert Grint, but I had nothing to worry about. Grint is an excellent actor who portrays Ben with integrity and pathos, proving that he is capable of much more beyond the Harry Potter films.
Here are a couple of songs from the soundtrack.
The Tallest Man, The Broadest Shoulders – Sufjan Stevens
Pink Moon – Nick Drake