American Fable is ambitious, maybe too much so sometimes, but there's an intense pleasure in the boldness of the film's style.
"Ladies in Lavender" assembles those two great Dames, Judi Dench and Maggie Smith, and sends them off to play sisters sharing a cozy little cottage on the Cornwall coast. That is an inspiration. What they do there is a disappointment. Their days are spent gardening and having tea, their evenings with knitting and the wireless, until one dark and stormy night, a strange young man is washed up on their shore.
This is Andrea Marowski (Daniel Bruhl). He is handsome, sweet, and speaks hardly a word of English. But Janet Widdington (Smith) discovers he has some German, and unearths her ancient textbook. Soon she and her sister Ursula (Dench) discover that Andrea is Polish, a violinist, and a gifted one at that. What they do not discover is how he happened to be in the sea on that stormy night, which is the very thing we want to know. There is no word of a shipwreck. Perhaps he is a magical creature, left over from "The Tempest."
The sisters have lived in calm and contentment for many years. Janet is a widow; Ursula has never married, and probably never had sex, although from the way she regards Andrea, she may be thinking it's never too late to start. Ursula becomes possessive of the handsome young man; Janet observes this, doesn't like it, and mostly but not entirely keeps her thoughts to herself.
Andrea is visited by good Dr. Mead (David Warner), who advises bed rest, although perhaps not as much as Andrea chooses to enjoy; it is pleasant, watching the sun stream in through the window and being served tea by the sisters' crusty maid, Dorcas (Miriam Margolyes), who was born to play Doll Tearsheet. Eventually, however, Andrea ventures outside and catches the eye of Olga Danilof (Natascha McElhone), a landscape painter; she is not a very good painter, but she is a beautiful young woman, speaks German, and is soon spending time with Andrea while Ursula goes into a quiet and tactful form of anguish. Of course, coincidentally, Olga happens to possess the key to Andrea's fate as a violinist.