Film Friday: Florence Foster Jenkins

Florence Foster Jenkins can sing. But not the big operatic numbers she keeps choosing. She is a New York Heiress who does all she can to promote music in New York, and one day sets her heart on becoming an opera singer after seeing a performance at Carnegie Hall. Her common law husband St Clair Bayfield believes in her, cares deeply for her, and does his best to protect her from disappointment and criticism. He protects her from bad reviews and works tirelessly to make her life better. Florence has suffered with syphilis for 50 years, never knowing how long she has left, but St Clair watches over her, literally putting her to bed when the days have worn her out. After making several recordings Florence decides it is time to live her dream – she wants to sing at Carnegie Hall and invites 1000 war veterans to encourage them after all they’ve given in World War Two. The problem is the venue is too big, St Clair will not be able to control who comes, or protect Florence from a bad reaction if the audience laughs at her extraordinary attempts at operatic singing. Her pianist Cosme McMoon (yes really) does not want to play for her if she performs at Carnegie Hall. So, in spite of his own fears, St Clair does his best to persuade him.

When the concert begins the audience, many of them GIs who’ve been on the sauce, start to laugh openly, and Florence is shocked and stops singing. However, Agnes Stark, a broad, sassy New York blond, intervenes. Leaping up in the front row she tells the audience in no uncertain terms to shut up and applaud Florence. When the GIs laugh at her she gives them as good as she gets with a dose of humour on top and before you know it the audience is on its feet, showing appreciation for Florence Foster Jenkins. It’s a great moment of encouragement for Florence and she is able to continue and finish the show. Her life’s dream.

The Bible is hot on encouragement.  Very hot. Barnabas, whose name means ‘Son of Encouragement’ picked up John Mark when Paul had given up on him, and took him under his wing. When the believers in Jerusalem needed funds to help the poorer believers Barnabas sold a field and gave the money to the church. In Ephesians chapter 4 verse 29 we are told to ‘Let everything you say be good and helpful, so that your words will be an encouragement to those who hear them.’ That may not always mean being nice and smiley, although a smile passed on can be a great encouragement. When Agnes admonished the audience she did it with guts, wit and determination, and encouragement it certainly was. St Clair was also a great encourager, working tirelessly and practically to help Florence. Like Barnabas he threw himself into making life better for another person.

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