It’s a shame that Mia Farrow’s in the news so much for her private life because it’s easy to forget that she’s a very good actress. In John Irvin’s 1994 film Widows’ Peak, filmed during the height of her public family tragedy (which I won’t go into), Farrow shows that even without the direction of Woody Allen, she’s a charismatic and funny actress. Set in the fictional town of Kilshannon, Widows’ Peak tells the story of a small community of widows, led by a blustery matriarch, Mrs. Doyle-Counihan (Joan Plowright). Farrow plays the mousy Miss O’Hare, a spinster, who despite never being married, is also embraced by the group of widows. The town’s tight-knit community is thrown into a tizzy when gorgeous American-British widow, Edwina Broome (the late Natasha Richardson), breezes in. And immediately Mrs. Broome and Miss O’Hare develop a mutual hatred of each other.
When Widows’ Peak was released, it was packaged as a cute, innocuous British-Irish comedy in vein with Enchanted April or Waking Ned Devine. These kinds of movies often give ridiculously idealized portraits of condescendingly adorable villages with “colorful” locals. But there’s something more interesting happening with Widows’ Peak. And though there are elements of cutesiness in the film – and it’s so light that it practically floats, but the animosity between Miss O’Hare and Mrs. Broome plays out in some macabre ways. Because the two women hate each other, they start to one-up each other in trying to take the other down. Initially the slights are petty and ridiculous, but Mrs. Broome ups the ante when she almost runs Miss O’Hare over with a boat in a regatta. Then when an actual murder does occur, all the evidence points at Mrs. Broome. And suddenly, the film turns from a slapstick comedy to an interesting murder mystery.
As mentioned Farrow gives a good, solid performance. If you can forgive her horrible Irish brogue. In fact, it’s a bit of a shock that a cast with pros like Joan Plowright and Jim Broadbent are so bad at sounding Irish – it makes one wonder why the film is set in Ireland or why the casting director didn’t look for Irish actors. But if you forgive the actors for their failed attempts at Irish accents, the performances are funny – Plowright, the Marie Dressler of her generation, has become the go-to lady if you want the ruffled, formidable old lady. Richardson, meanwhile, steals the film with a sleek, polished performance, and (thankfully) her American accent is perfect. And the script – written by Hugh Leonard and Tim Hays – creates a good sense of suspense and mystery – especially when dealing with the violent distrust between O’Hare and Mrs. Broome. And the comedy is great, too. Widows’ Peak isn’t a classic, and as mentioned, it’s very fluffy, and probably won’t be remembered, but it’s a solid, enjoyable couple hours of viewing pleasure.