STARS: Meryl Streep, Hugh Grant, Simon Helberg, Rebecca Ferguson and Nina Arianda.

LONG before the X Factor and Britain’s Got Talent hopefuls shed their tears on stage, there was Florence Foster Jenkins.

This amateur operatic soprano was the type of endearing but untalented eccentric, who would have thrilled the judges.

But Florence was a hit long before the current batch of TV hopefuls.

In fact she became a cause celebre in 1930s and 1940s New York precisely because she was unable to hold a note during her infamous recitals of Verdi, Brahms and Mozart.

Recordings of her caterwauling became collector’s items and her concerts were always sold out. Jenkins brought joy to millions and remained convinced of her soaring abilities until her glorious end, aged 76.

This real-life story of triumph against sniggering cynicism provides rich inspiration for Stephen Frears’ rollicking comedy drama.

Anchored by tour-de-force performances from Meryl Streep and Hugh Grant that perfectly harmonise humour and pathos, Florence Foster Jenkins is an unabashedly joyful period piece that stands resolutely behind the eponymous socialite as she massacres the Laughing Song from Die Fledermaus or the Queen Of The Night aria from The Magic Flute.

As the heroine remarks, “People may say I couldn’t sing but no one can say I didn’t sing.”

Florence (Streep) is determined to further her musical ambitions with the help of her second husband and doting companion, St Clair (Grant).

Vocal coach Carlo Edwards (David Haig) and venerated conductor Arturo Toscanini (John Kavanagh) prepare Florence for a big concert at the world-famous Carnegie Hall.

Streep is mesmerising, bringing tenderness and vulnerability to a role that could so easily have been played as a pitiful figure of mockery.

Grant is a wonderful comic foil and he demonstrates a light touch in moving scenes that remind us of his oft-ignored abilities as a dramatic actor.

Period design is impeccable and Frears builds to a rousing emotional crescendo worthy of one of Jenkins' standing ovations.

Audiences will certainly die happy after watching Florence Foster Jenkins.