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Storyline (warning: spoilers)
Catherine Deneuve is a French national treasure, an iconic star from the Sixties onwards, she has been in more than 120 films, and shows no sign of slowing down, appearing in 5 films in 2017 alone. In The Midwife, a bittersweet two hander, she plays opposite the wonderful Catherine Frot (The Page Turner, Marguerite); so it is battle of the Catherines.
Frot plays Clare, a pleasant woman in midlife who is devoted to her work as a midwife (which in French means literally wisewoman). When she is not plucking healthy babies from beneath the sheets of labouring mums, she is trying to be a good mother to her grown-up son Simon (Quentin Dolmaire) who also wants to go into medicine. She lives in the outer burbs of Paris and spends time on her allotment growing veggies. She seems content with her life in a sightly settled kind of way. The only possible point of interest is a slow flirtation with a too-good-to-be-true lorry driver called Paul (Olivier Gourmet) who shares her love of gardening.
Into all of this bustles Beatrice (Deneuve), the long-term mistress of Claire’s swimming champion deceased father, but not Claire’s birth mother. In fact, Beatrice feels she has something to make up to the adult Claire for having diverted the father’s life and affections even though it was all a long time ago. The rest of the film explores the complex relationship between the two once-estranged women.
Writer/director Martin Provost obviously knows he has significant talent to work with and he treats his two stars respectfully. Indeed, there are great little scenes between them with Frot radiating her believable long-suffering goodness and Deneuve (who has much the more interesting role of course) effortlessly getting us to feel Claire’s frustration whilst also engaging our sympathies. It is a difficult balancing act and a tribute to the great actor’s skill.