In my youth, a popular party piece was to haul out a recording made by New York socialite Florence Foster Jenkins and all fall about laughing as we listened to her murder The Queen of the Night. It was so innocently bad. It took great skill, imagination and sympathy to bring her story to the screen, for where is the modern audience for a truly bad opera singer from the 1940s?
Enter director Stephen Frears. He has produced a remarkable film, drawing on the brilliance of Meryl Streep as Jenkins, Hugh Grant as her husband (one of his best performances) and a wry, comic turn from Simon Helberg (of Big Bang fame) as Madam’s hapless pianist. The film is beautifully written and produced, an absolute delight. Frears makes it convincing, including showing how Jenkin’s devoted husband shielded her from the truth of her foolishness.
Meryl Streep sings all the Jenkins extracts, and it is a tribute to her taste and skill that she doesn’t make it sound like a poor take-off as she reproduces Jenkins’ famously bad singing. It’s a star turn, especially as it takes great skill to sing badly, convincingly.
Alexandre Desplat provides a small amount of original music; the other tracks on the CD are incidental items, including some jazz, Chopin and arias by top singers. As a result this makes for a very unsatisfactory CD. So see the film, but forget the grab-bag soundtrack, unless you want a record of Streep’s brilliant take-off.