Peter O'Toole plays Maurice, an elderly London actor of moderate renown whose cranky best friend (Leslie Phillips), another aged thespian, is beset upon by his grand-niece (newcomer Jodie Whittaker), a snotty Northern girl with a taste for alcohol. Maurice - a lifelong ladies' man - finds himself instantly smitten with the impolite young niece and, even as he acknowledges that he is at the end of his life, sets off upon one final conquest. Or at least he tries to. "The spirit is willing but the flesh is weak" best describes the horny old Maurice's situation as he vainly tries to score with the niece, whom he nicknames Venus. She's not as stupid as she looks, however, and agrees to an unusual and conditional relationship with Maurice where the boundaries are in flux - and constantly tested.
Three years earlier, director Roger Michell and screenwriter Hanif Kureishi collaborated on a similar picture, The Mother, in which the tables were turned and an older woman embarked upon a sexual relationship with a younger man. The Mother was an angry, brutal film, more of an attack of the rotten state of the modern English family than a story about love or sex. Venus is far gentler, either because of our sexist culture that is more forgiving of a dirty old man chasing around a young girl than an elderly woman asserting her sexuality, or because this is really a vehicle for O'Toole - one last chance at a great leading role before he himself shuffles off this mortal coil.
In the end, the film is pleasant, and while it does acknowledge that Maurice's intentions are both pitiful and creepy, it didn't otherwise leave me much to chew on. O'Toole, however, gives it his all, and it's a touching performance - all the more so when we consider that he won't be with us for much longer. There are a lot of nice subtleties in both the script and the cast's work as well. But without O'Toole's legendary status, there would be little really notable about Venus.