A Good Year

A Good Year is a 2006 British romantic comedy-drama film, set in London and Provence. Directed by Ridley Scott, starring Russell Crowe, Marion Cotillard, Didier Bourdon, Abbie Cornish, Tom Hollander and Albert Finney, it is based on the 2004 novel of the same name by British author Peter Mayle.


    In the prologue, a young Max Skinner, whose parents have died in an accident, spends his childhood summer holidays learning to appreciate the finer things in life at his Uncle Henry's vineyard estate in Provence in south-eastern France. Some 25 years later, Max is an unethical yet very successful hard-working London-based bond trader with a large portion sense of humour.

    Following his uncle's death, Max is the sole beneficiary of the French property. He travels to Provence to prepare a quick sale. Shortly after arriving he almost knocks a local café waitress, named Fanny Chenal, off her bicycle as a result of his careless driving. Subsequently, he discovers that his latest City financial stunt has caused real trouble for the owners of the trading company he works for hence the CEO orders him to return to London as soon as possible.

    To assist in his planned sale of the property, Max hurriedly snaps some photos and in the process falls into an empty swimming pool. He is unable to escape until Fanny Chenal, driving by and spotting his rental car, appears and turns on the water supply in retaliation. This delay causes Max to miss his flight and having failed to report to the directors in person, he is suspended from work and trading activities for one week.

    On Henry's estate, Max must deal with a gruff, dedicated winemaker, Francis Duflot, who fears being separated from his precious vines. Duflot pays a vineyard inspector to tell Max that the soil is bad and the vines worthless.

    In the meantime, they are surprised by the unexpected arrival of young Napa Valley oenophile Christie Roberts, who is backpacking through Europe and claims to be Henry's previously unknown illegitimate daughter. Like Max, Christie finds the house wine unpalatable but is impressed by Max's casual offering of the boutique Le Coin Perdu, "the lost corner" vintage, noting some intriguing characteristics. Max is concerned she might lay claim to the estate and brusquely interrogates her during dinner at the Duflot house.

    While getting updates from his assistant Gemma of office politics, she warns him of ambitious staff antics. To ensure he is not usurped by Kenny, his second-in-command in London, through whom Max continues to direct trades, Max intentionally gives the ambitious young trader bad advice, getting Kenny fired.

    Max becomes enamoured with the beautiful, feisty café waitress Fanny, who is rumoured to have sworn off men. He successfully woos Fanny into his bed, where she leaves Max the next morning expecting him to return to his life in London.

    A disillusioned Christie also decides to move on. Max finds his uncle's mementos containing proof of Christie's heritage however he bids her farewell while handing her an unexplained note inside a book she was reading. While informing Duflot of the pending estate sale, Max learns that the mysterious expensive Le Coin Perdu was made by Henry and Duflot with "illegal vines" from the estate, bypassing wine classification and appellation laws.

    The estate is sold and Max returns to London where Sir Nigel, the company chairman, offers Max a choice: "Money or your life", either a discharge settlement, which includes "a lot of zeros," or the partnership in the trading firm, where he would then be "made for life". Max asks about Nigel's art in the conference room, which Fanny has a copy of in her restaurant. Upon Nigel's dismissive comment that the real one is vaulted and the $200,000 copy in the office is for show, Max reconsiders if he wants to still be like Nigel.

    Max invalidates the estate's sale with the farewell letter he gave to Christie, which he forged, along with real photos confirming Christie as Henry's daughter with a valid claim to the estate (as a child Max signed cheques for his uncle, able to replicate his handwriting and signature).

    He puts his London residence up for sale and returns to Provence, entering into a relationship with Fanny. Christie also returns and she and Francis jointly run the vineyard while trying to reconcile their vastly different philosophies of wine production. Meanwhile, Max is now able to focus his entire attention on Fanny.



    Development and writing

    "As I go on, I'm very attracted to comedy. At the end of the day, because you've been having a good old laugh, you go home laughing — as opposed to dealing with blood all day and you go home and want to cut your wrists."

    —Ridley Scott on breaking away from action movies

    Ridley Scott had owned a house in Provence for fifteen years, and wanted to film a production there. Scott Free president Lisa Ellzey recommended the works of author Peter Mayle, who had written best-selling books set in the south of France. Scott and Mayle were acquaintances and neighbours, having worked together in advertising and commercials during the 1970s, but as the author did not want to write a screenplay, he instead wrote a new book after discussing a film plot with Scott. Screenwriter Marc Klein was brought in after Scott read an adaptation he did of The Girls' Guide to Hunting and Fishing – eventually released in 2007 as Suburban Girl.

    Klein had to expand and alter the story of the book to make the adaptation "more movie-like". A particular focus was to add conflict, with changes such as turning Fanny from a gentle character to a stubborn woman who starts without sympathy for Max. Another addition was the scene where Max falls in the swimming pool, which Scott said was to demonstrate "[that] the house had not let him go". The director wanted to portray Uncle Henry on screen instead of just describing him. While writer Marc Klein first suggested depicting him as a ghost, Scott's attempts at that did not work so he used flashbacks which "occur just as another scene" where it would depict "the grooming of Max as child which will be used as payoffs for the three acts that follow". Klein described Henry as "sounding like Albert Finney" so Scott hired the actor, with whom he had worked in The Duellists. Scott brought Russell Crowe as the protagonist Max. The actor stated that it was a good opportunity for them to reunite after 2000's Gladiator as "it just seemed more fun to go into this smaller place, where the problems weren't as vast." The character was considered a change from Crowe's usual roles, with some noting it may reflect "maturity" or "contentment", with Australia's Courier-Mail dubbing him "A Mellow Fellow". Crowe said of his life at the time: "[I'm] relaxed ... Work isn't the most important thing in my life now. It's not even in the top ten." The actor also stressed the importance of his family. Scott also stated one of the reasons for the project was that he had "not done much in the way of comedy" and it seemed to be a good opportunity to "keep challenging yourself".


    The film was shot throughout nine weeks in 2005, mostly in locations Scott described as "eight minutes from my house". French locations were filmed at Bonnieux, Cucuron and Gordes in Vaucluse, Marseille Provence Airport, and the rail station in Avignon. London locations included Albion Riverside in Battersea, Broadgate, the Bluebird Cafe on King's Road in Chelsea, and Criterion Restaurant in Piccadilly Circus.

    The scene with the tennis match between Max and Duflot was added on the set, replacing an argument at the vines to provide "a battle scene". As the swimming pool on Chateau La Canorgue did not fit the one Scott had envisioned from the scene, only the scenes outside the pool were filmed there. The one after Max had fallen was dug and concreted nearby, and the original one had its bottom replaced digitally to match. The production team could not film the wine cave from La Canorgue as they shot during the period where it was being used, so the wine cellar from a nearby hotel was turned into a cave. While southern France does not have clay courts as the weather makes them hard to maintain, Scott wanted one for its dirty and beaten up aspect, so the tennis court was built from scratch, including posts straight from the Wimbledon courts. Fanny's cafe was shot in a Gordes restaurant, with designer Sonja Klaus decorating it with items bought from second-hand shops considering the character would have done the same. Klaus employed a kitsch decoration on Duflot's estate to show it was "a character keeping up with the Joneses – if it was in America, he would drive a golden Cadillac with leopard skin print seats", and decorated the large water basin of Cucuron with floating candles to "make it look like a fabulous event" for Max's dinner with Fanny.


    Marc Streitenfeld worked as a music editor on Hans Zimmer's Remote Control Productions and was invited by Scott to make his debut as a film score composer. The soundtrack includes "Moi Lolita" by Alizée, "Breezin' Along with the Breeze" by Josephine Baker, "Gotta Get Up", "Jump into the Fire", and "How Can I Be Sure of You" by Harry Nilsson, "Hey Joe" by Johnny Hallyday, "Vous, qui passez sans me voir" and "J'attendrai" by Jean Sablon, "Le chant du gardien" by Tino Rossi, "Je chante" by Charles Trenet, "Old Cape Cod" by Patti Page, "Walk Right Back" by the Everly Brothers, "Boum" by Adrien Chevalier, and "Itsy Bitsy Petit Bikini" by Richard Anthony. The CD includes only 15 songs from the film; several are left out.


    Box office

    The film was budgeted at $35 million. The total worldwide gross is $42,061,749. Although exceeding its production budget, the film was a Box office bomb. As of 2010, it has earned over $7 million in US DVD sales.

    Critical response

    The film received negative reviews from critics. It holds a 25% rating on Rotten Tomatoes based on 128 reviews, with an average rating of 4.8/10. The site's critical consensus reads, "A Good Year is a fine example of a top-notch director and actor out of their elements, in a sappy romantic comedy lacking in charm and humor."

    In Variety, Todd McCarthy called the film "a divertissement, an excuse for the filmmakers and cast to enjoy a couple of months in Provence and for the audience, by proxy, to spend a couple of hours there. A simple repast consisting of sometimes strained slapsticky comedy, a sweet romance and a life lesson learned, this little picnic doesn't amount to much but goes down easily enough." "Crowe executes a lightweight change of pace with his charisma entirely intact ... Cotillard is enchanting. Abbie Cornish...has a nice note of observant reserve. The setting could hardly be made to look less than glorious, and production standards are up to what one expects from a Scott picture."

    In his review in The New York Times, Stephen Holden called it "an innocuous, feel-good movie", "a sun-dappled romantic diversion", and "a three-P movie: pleasant, pretty and predictable. One might add piddling."

    In the St. Petersburg Times, Steve Persall rated the film B+ and added it "is a lighter choice than usual for the rugged actor and for Ridley Scott . . . A change of scenery suits them well. Yet they still bring a roguish flavor to the romantic comedy sentiments established by Peter Mayle's novel. This is a chick flick for dudes, too . . . A Good Year runs about a month too long, but it's tough to leave such a lovely place. Scott blends the don't-rush-past-love appeal of Jerry Maguire with the continental air of Under the Tuscan Sun for a robustly romantic diversion."

    Kenneth Turan of the Los Angeles Times observed, "[the] scenery may be attractive and the cast likewise, but something vital is missing in this all-too-leisurely film ... The fact that we know exactly what will happen to Max from the moment he appears on screen is not what's wrong with A Good Year. After all, we go to films like this precisely because the satisfaction of emotional certainty is what we're looking for."

    Jessica Reaves of the Chicago Tribune rated the film two stars out of a possible four and described it as "Despite the occasional seductive moment, A Good Year ... deep as a wading pool, as substantive as cotton candy."

    In the UK, Peter Bradshaw of The Guardian called it "a humourless cinematic slice of tourist gastro-porn".