RICHARD Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II were right: there is nothing like a dame.

Those magnificent doyennes of British stage and screen, Dame Judi Dench and Dame Maggie Smith, add a golden lustre to Charles Dance's directorial debut, adapted from William J Locke's short story of the same name.

Elderly sisters Ursula and Janet Widdington (Judi Dench, Maggie Smith) live in a fishing village in mid-30s Cornwall, far removed from the Sturm und Drang of events unfolding in Europe.

The pace of village life is extremely gentle and strangers are never fully welcomed into the close-knit community.

The morning after a violent storm, which batters the sisters' quaint cliff-side cottage, Ursula and Janet discover a castaway washed up on the beach.

Nursing the young man (Daniel Bruhl) back to health with the help of their earthy housekeeper, Dorcas (Miriam Margolyes), and the local medic, Dr Mead (David Warner), the ladies learn that the handsome stranger is a Polish violinist called Andrea Marowski.

Determined to overcome the language barrier, Ursula sets about trying to communicate with Andrea by pinning labels to the objects in his bedroom.

"We're learning English!" she proudly tells her sister. "He might be," Janet replies dryly, "but you're just putting holes in the furniture."

Both women grow fond of Andrea's company, especially Ursula who is profoundly affected by the presence of a dashing young man in the house.

Andrea soon becomes a permanent fixture in the sisters' lives until Russian artist Olga Danilof (Natascha McElhone), the sister of a world famous violinist, comes to the village.

She hears his exquisite musicianship and makes plans to take Andrea with her to London to meet her brother.

However, Ursula and Janet are reluctant to lose their houseguest.

Ladies in Lavender is a nostalgic and moving snapshot of village life in a bygone era, fuelled by the stellar pairing of the formidable leads.

Dench's role is the showier of the two and she beautifully conveys the maelstrom of emotions - love, jealousy, despair - which Andrea brings out in her spinster.

Smith assumes a far more imperious air, and has many of the best one-liners.

German rising star Bruhl is appealing and the supporting cast is colourful, not least Margolyes' home help, who has an accent as thick as Cornish clotted cream.

Dance directs with skill although he should curb his predilection for slow motion and Locke's short story is too slight to sustain the running time.

RATING: 8/10