A consistently intelligent (or at least bright), coherently constructed comedy that is on occasion a rather pointed critique of the American education system in the…
You may think there is no hotel in London like the Claremont, where Mrs. Palfrey becomes a lodger. No hotel where respectable gentlefolk can live by the month and have their breakfasts and dinners served to them in a dining room where good manners prevail. No hotel where the bellman is an aged ruin who nevertheless barks commands at the desk clerk. No hotel where the elevator is a brass cage that rises and falls majestically and discharges its passengers from behind ornate sliding doors.
But here and there such relics survive. A very few of my readers will have stayed at the Eyrie Mansion on Jermyn Street when it was run by Henry and Doddy Togna, and they will nod in recognition, although the mansion, to be sure, had no dining room. They will remember Bob the hall porter, who drove Henry crazy by getting drunk every eighth day ("If Bob got drunk every seventh day, on a regular schedule like, we could plan for it").
Mrs. Palfrey (Joan Plowright) books into the Claremont almost blindly. She is in flight from life with her grown daughter in Scotland, and wants to be independent. She is a stoic. Shown her room (twin beds of different heights, a desk, a mirror, a straight chair and an arm chair), she says, "Oh, dear!" Learning from the aged ruin that the bathroom is down the hall and the early bird gets the hot water, she cannot even manage an "oh, dear!"
In the dining room, she meets the regulars, particularly the brisk Mrs. Arbuthnot (Anna Massey), who tells the others to shut up when they require such coaching. There is also dear Mr. Osborne (Robert Lang), who asks her to a "do" at the Mason's Hall. Mrs. Palfrey hopes to spend time with her grandson Desmond, who works in the City, but he is an ingrate who never returns her calls. Then one day, while returning from the branch library with a copy of Lady Chatterley's Lover for Mrs. Arbuthnot, she stumbles on the sidewalk and is rescued by a nice young man named Ludovic (Rupert Friend). He invites her into the borrowed basement flat when he lives, serves her tea, rubs disinfectant on her bruise and explains he is a writer who supports himself as a street musician.