Life is for Living
William Thorne (Robert Donat) has been the vicar of the village of Hinton St. John for 20 years where he lives with his wife Vera (Kay Walsh) and their musically gifted daughter Susan (Adrienne Corri) who has a chance at a scholarship in the city except they haven't got the money to support her. But it has been a very steady way of life for the Thornes although Vera would love for a better life for them and their daughter. But when William receives news that he has a year to live it gives him a new lease of life as he re-evaluates the way he has lived and sets about making a difference in the lives of his parishioners who see going to church as a duty. Unfortunately not everyone warms to the newly invigorated William and what he has to say whilst there are financial worries to contend with as well.
As a child I went to a church where the sermon lasted so many minutes, there were a specific number of songs sung and you knew you would be out the door by 12:30 no matter what. I also went to a church as a teenager where you sang songs as the spirit took you, the pastor would often preach as long as the spirit lead him and to be honest you would be lucky if church was even close to being over come one o'clock. I say this because "Lease of Life" reminded of these two different church experiences as on one hand we have the church of keeping up appearances where people go out of obligation and to feel like they have done there deed for the week. And then on learning that he is dying Thorne lets loose and starts telling people exactly how it is and how life is for living rather than observing rules and I have to be honest it put a smile on my face as he ruffled the feathers of the establishment.
Unfortunately the subplot which runs alongside Thorne finding a new spirit as you have various people trying to make sure his daughter can go to London isn't so engaging. Although having said that it certainly paints a picture of a vicar's wife who whilst devoted to her husband would probably have thought twice about marrying him if she had known that they would not have had the luxuries others have had. As such you can see that Vera is almost living vicariously through her daughter, pushing her to make up for what she feels like she has missed out on. It brings to the movie an extra situation as a dying man has entrusted William with his savings which William asks Vera to wrap up in order to take it to the bank.
But whilst the subplot doesn't do that much for me "Lease of Life" thrives because of Richard Donat who gives life to the character of William Thorne. From the restrained frustration of how his parishioners see the church to the joy he gets from speaking his mind, Donat makes every word, emotion and some times laboured breath feel very real as if Thorne was part of him. It is just a joy to watch Donat at work but it does mean that many of the other actors come across as weak in comparison, failing to give their characters the depth which Donat succeeds despite famously suffering from poor health.
What this all boils down to is that "Lease of Life" is a movie which has some great positives, none more so than the performance of Robert Donat. But equally there is a side to "Lease of Life" which doesn't work so well, making it an uneven movie.