Saturday, May 24, 2003
Oscar winners Maggie Smith and Chris Cooper star in the superior cable drama "My House in Umbria" (8 p.m. Sunday, HBO), smartly adapted from a novel by William Trevor. After a terrorist attack on a passenger train, the eccentric romance writer Emily Delahunty (Smith) invites her fellow survivors to convalesce at her villa. Each of them -- an elderly Englishman (Ronnie Barker), a young German man (Benno Furmann) and Aimee (Emmy Clarke), a mute and traumatized 8-year-old American -- has lost loved ones in the blast. Emily invites them, in part, because she had no one to lose.
Given the film's title, viewers would be forgiven if they assumed that "Umbria" was just another quaint film about strangers transformed by the postcard prettiness of sunny Italy. But they would be wrong. Sudden and subtle changes and revelations occur often in this fine film, particularly when Aimee's uncle Thomas Riversmith (Cooper) arrives to take her home. Shot on location in northern Italy, "Umbria" makes the most of its scenery.