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Last Updated: Wednesday, 18 May, 2005, 08:17 GMT 09:17 UK
Mystery pianist film? Already done...
By Tom Geoghegan
BBC News Magazine

Daniel Bruhl as Andrea
Andrea thrills the village with his talent
The story of the talented musician who mysteriously appeared on the English coast would make a good film. If it hadn't already been done.

An unknown past, unexplained circumstances, and an immense gift for music.

The tale of the classical pianist unable to communicate with police or carers has all the ingredients of an ideal plot for the big screen - and Hollywood has reportedly been expressing its interest in the story.

It's a case which has drawn comparisons with the 1996 film Shine which depicts the story of acclaimed Australian pianist David Helfgott.

But anyone looking for parallels with celluloid should look a lot closer to home, to a film released only last year.

Some minor concessions have to be made - in the fictional account, he's a violinist not a pianist and it's Cornwall not Kent.

Life and art

But the events reported in the news still have an uncanny resemblance to Ladies in Lavender, which stars the two great British dames, Maggie Smith and Judi Dench.

They play spinster sisters Janet and Ursula who live on the Cornish coast in 1936. Their lives are turned upside-down when a young man, played by Daniel Bruhl, is washed up on the beach. He can't speak any English but he plays the violin like a virtuoso.

Dames Maggie Smith and Judi Dench
The sisters are enchanted by the stranger
The sisters nurse him back to health and eventually discover he is Polish and named Andrea, but his journey to this remote part of the world remains a mystery.

The same questions on the lips of cinema audiences last year are being repeated today: "Is he British or a foreigner? Did he come on a ship? Was he drowning himself? What's happened to his memory? Where did he learn to play?"

Very little is known about the pianist, and everyone will be hoping that his own unfortunate tale has a happy ending. But a closer look at the mystery surrounding the Kent case - and public interest - highlights the unusual parallels.

The piano man was soaking wet when he was discovered and police thought he may have emerged from the sea.

And the places of origin of pianist and violinist could be relatively close. The hospital has brought in interpreters to see if the patient is from Eastern Europe - though there are now reports that he has been identified as a French street musician.

Unknown pianist
From distress to serenity when the music starts

The Ladies in Lavender tale does not seem to have been based on fact.

Director Charles Dance adapted the screenplay from an original short story by William J Locke, in his 1916 collection called Faraway Stories.

He found the book by accident, when he began reading some of the props on a film set in Budapest. The dramatic elements which caught Dance's eye that day are probably the same as those which have captured the public's imagination this week.

There's a great fascination with people better able to express their feelings through music.

According to witnesses, the silent and troubled stranger is imbued with calm the moment he sits in front of the chapel piano. He has delighted hospital staff by playing Tchaikovsky's Swan Lake and compositions apparently of his own making.

Police have investigated suggestions he is a renowned pianist. But if the similarities between him and Andrea should continue, however doubtful that may seem, he will eventually play to packed concert halls around the world.


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