Anthony Hopkins plays Sir, an aged actor who has reached the peak of his career as the head of a small acting troupe performing night after night. Unfortunately, his health and memory are failing, but having never missed a performance, he insists on going on with the show. At least most of the time anyway. When he finds his confidence shaken, his assistant and dresser, Norman (Ian McKellen), is able to convince him and urge him back onto the path of appearing on stage as King Lear.
Most of the movie is about Sir and Norman as Sir goes through several episodes of fear, rage, memory loss, and lucidity. All the while, Norman is trying to make sure his master is making steady progress towards being ready for when the curtain opens. Norman also finds himself talking with the rest of the troupe as he tries to convince them that the show will go on and that Sir will perform as he always does.
Chief among those worried about Sir are the actor's wife, Her Ladyship (Emily Watson) and the stage manager, Madge (Sarah Lancashire). Both care about Sir and both care about the show, but who cares for which subject the most isn't all that clear.
Sir's sickly nature isn't the only problem the theater is facing either. The story takes place at the height of World War II during the bombing of London. All throughout the film, the air raid klaxons sound and there is frequent talk about how many theaters have been destroyed, or how many young actors are in the war instead of on the stage. Between this shortage and a recent arrest, Sir's troupe finds itself especially shorthanded this night. So, while Norman is dealing with Sir's personal issues, he also has to help find people to fill the various holes in the playbill and production team.
The tone of The Dresser is an interesting one. It feels very much like watching a play. The music, when there, is very subtle and quiet while the various sets, all within the theater itself, are small. This, combined with the fact that you rarely see more than two people on screen at the same time, gives the whole movie a very intimate mood. It's really well done.
The Dresser comes with two featurettes. "From Stage to Screen" talks about the casting and directing choices to adapt the play into a BBC television production, while "Master & Assistant" discusses the relationship between Sir and Norman and how it has parallels between King Lear and his fool.
The Dresser is a good movie that anyone who likes drama will want to see. As you would expect from these two powerhouses, Hopkins and McKellen are awesome in both of their roles, and the overall feel and pacing of the film pulls you in and makes you wonder if Sir will make it to the stage and through the play, or if Norman's efforts will be for naught. While I can't say it is for everyone, it will appeal to a great number of people.