Pierce Brosnan and Jessica Lange in “The Great Lillian Hall” 2024. IMDb photo

Well, you only need three. “Tootsie” (1982), “The Postman Always Rings Twice” (1981), and “All That Jazz,” (1979) where she played “The Angel of Death.”

Let us not forget “King Kong,” but “Postman” sticks in my memory.

Here, then is her latest, “The Great Lillian Hall,” where the Great Jessica Lange plays Lillian, the reigning “Queen of Broadway.”

The film centers around Lillian in rehearsal for Chekhov’s 1904 play “The Cherry Orchard” where she plays Madame Lyuba Ranevsky, a Russian aristocrat being forced out of her family estate.

In rehearsal, Lillian laughs and floats around the gorgeous set, missing line after line in a play she must have played in as a young girl.

The story takes us to a doctor’s office as a part of the production’s mandatory cast exam, which reveals a flock of “lewy” bodies, proteins that fill massive areas of Lillian’s brain.


Director Michael Cristofer (who won a Pulitzer Prize and a Tony for writing the 1977 Broadway play “The Shadow Box”) works here with screenwriter Elisabeth Seldes Annacone. He keeps his camera on every move, every gesture and line reading through every rehearsal as Lillian laughs, and apologizes, until we face a scary day of intensive MRI’s that reveals an ugly truth, explained softly by her doctor (a really comforting Keith Arthur Bolden). The Lewy invasion of Lillian’s brain will take away her career.

While she listens, we watch the actor Jessica’s expressions, the light in the eyes dimming as he speaks and points to the MRI results on the screen.

The sprinkles in the MRI are Lewy bodies, “proteins that build up in areas of the brain, resulting in a form of dementia that will cause memory loss, functional decline, tremors and hallucinations that quickly move from temporary to permanent.”

The word “permanent” hangs in the air between them and ultimately takes form.

Another fabulous actor is here, the great Oscar-winning Kathy Bates, as Lillian’s tough career-long aide and friend Edith, who desperately steps in and gives Lillian a hidden mic, enabling Edith to sit hidden backstage and whisper the forgotten lines to Lillian.

All this is done without the director’s (Jesse Williams, “Survivors Guide to Prison”) knowledge, while the producer (Cindy Hogan) plots to replace Lillian with the understudy, a move that will surely close the play before it opens.


The hidden mic gambit fails, of course, to prevent what everyone in the production knows is going to happen as they watch Broadway’s greatest “legend,” the legendary Lillian Hall, move from “stage right” to “center” to a final curtain.

There is a touching scene on a park bench where Lillian’s dead husband (Michael Rose), who has been floating just out of touch in her feverishly apparitions, holds her. He will, we know, take her to the other side.

Pierce Brosnan is here as a sympathetic neighbor, and Lily Rabe (the daughter of playwright David Rabe actress Jill Clayburgh) plays Lillian’s daughter. Ms. Rabe, in her final scenes where she discovers her mother’s fate, shows us how a “nepo baby” can truly carry a bloodline.

“The Great Lillian Hall” is streaming on Max.

J.P. Devine of Waterville is a former stage and screen actor.

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