Except for her canary and cat, Martha (Sheila Florance) lives alone in an apartment containing fragments and memorabilia of the past which speak to a rich and complex life comprised of various relationships and wartime horrors. Many of the fragments are further referenced in flashback scenes. Three current relationships--with her caretaker, her son, and her dependent and declining neighbor, Billy (Norman Kaye)--are central to this moment in time and provide an illuminating portrayal of Martha’s struggle for independence and undiminished zest for life. While her kind caretaker, Anna (Gosia Dobrowolska), respects the old woman’s fierce need for autonomy, her son, concerned about her frailty and safety, is intent on relocation to a nursing home where she can be supervised. Martha, on the other hand, provides gentle and kind care for Billy, who has been abandoned by his family; during the night, when he is unable to find the bathroom, Martha provides gentle and unobtrusive assistance. Martha’s strength comes from character and spirit, remarkable traits which leave an indelible impression about our tendencies to conventionalize aging.


This film has been called a "showcase" for Sheila Florance, a wonderful actress who permits the camera to follow her through private and public moments of her daily routine at home and with friends, neighbors, and strangers. "I’m very old," she exclaims, "and a little bit sick, but I love life and I love young people." Her character is modeled on herself, a frail but vigorously resilient old woman in the final months of her life. Except for intrusive periods, the cancer is put in the background; our impression is not one of sickness, but of life lived to the fullest by this passionate, opinionated, and compelling figure. Viewers are dazzled by the intelligence, confidence and vitality portrayed by Sheila Florance, who, in fact, died shortly after receiving the Australian Film Institute’s best-actress award for this performance. This film and the film, Strangers in Good Company (see this database), are extremely useful for discussions concerning complex issues associated with aging and care provision.

Primary Source

MGM/UA Video