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Dame Helen Mirren in 'The One-Hundred Foot Journey' (Photo: DreamWorks)
Dame Helen Mirren in 'The One-Hundred Foot Journey' (Photo: DreamWorks)
Dame Helen Mirren in ‘The One-Hundred Foot Journey’ (Photo: DreamWorks)

Dame Helen Mirren has played regal to great effect in her Oscar-winning performance as the British monarch in The Queen. So it’s not really a surprise to find that the celebrated British actress can also do imperious very well.

In her latest screen endeavor she appears as Madame Mallory, the somewhat snooty proprietress of a French restaurant, in the new romantic comedy The Hundred-Foot Journey which opens today (August 8).

Dame Helen agrees her portrayal of Mallory works quite nicely. “She is haughty and vulnerable. I do that very well. It’s what I’m good at,” says the actress.

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The film, which is based on a bestseller of the same name, is really the story of a clash of cultures in a small town in the south of France between the very French Madame Mallory and an Indian family that opens the Maison Mumbai restaurant across the street.

Dame Helen says, “The type of restaurant is very offensive to her French sensibility of what a restaurant should be. It’s noisy, it’s smelly, she thinks it’s lowering the tone in general.”

Madame Mallory and the owner of the Indian restaurant, portrayed very effectively by Indian actor Om Puri, battle it out. But ultimately this is a feel-good story in which people from different backgrounds come together—and one where food plays a unifying role.

From Slumdog Millionaire to The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel—which has a sequel in the pipeline—and now this film, there appears to be a market for movies that feature Indian culture. But it’s not always easy to get audiences in both the East and West to embrace the same film with equal passion.

What The Hundred-Foot Journey has operating in its favor is the fact that two industry heavyweights, Steven Spielberg and Oprah Winfrey, are producers of the film. Both were on the red carpet at the picture’s world premiere this week working hard to promote their film to the U.S. and international media.

It’s a picture, directed by Lasse Hallström, that doesn’t go that deep, but it has great cinematography and a lively score from India’s talented AR Rahman. Watching Dame Helen and Om Puri is the big attraction. At times it plays like an advertisement to boost tourism in the south of France, but if nothing else The Hundred-Foot Journey is an enjoyable valentine to food and those committed to making sure it’s prepared impeccably.

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By Tom Brook