Wednesday, April 26, 2017

A Fine Romance

Judi Dench and Michael Williams in A Fine Romance.
Made eleven years before the better-known As Time Goes By, the 1981-84 TV series A Fine Romance shares many similarities with the latter show: star Judi Dench, creator-writer Bob Larbey, and a storyline that chronicles the evolving romance between two people who no longer expect to find love.

As Time Goes By focuses on a middle-aged couple who rekindle the love they experienced as young people. In contrast, A Fine Romance features two independent people--fast approaching the age of 40--who stumble their way through an unlikely courtship. As anyone knows, it's easier to rekindle a burning ember than to start a flame from scratch!

Dench with Susan Penhaligon.
Dench plays Laura, a linguist who translates books on subjects such as urinary infections. Her happily married sister Helen (Susan Penhaligon) has tried on numerous occasions to find an acceptable suitor for Laura. On the day of a party, Helen's latest "selection" bails at the last minute and Helen's husband invites a "nice bloke" named Mike (Michael Williams).

Mike is a landscape gardener who is equally unlucky in love. There are no sparks when he and Laura are introduced. But when he's forced out of a bathroom (where he was occupied with the crossword puzzle toilet paper), he seeks refuge in a bedroom. It turns out to be the same room where Laura has been hiding from a obnoxious guest that wants to engage in an intellectual discussion on death. Thrown together by their shared awkwardness, Laura and Mike find a little common ground.

Laura looking for the contact lens.
The subsequent episodes trace their slow, sometimes halting romance. A Fine Romance is a character-driven comedy in the best British tradition. So, don't expect a lot of plot. One amusing episode takes place almost entirely at a restaurant in which Laura loses a contact lens.

Dench and Williams are a delightful duo and it's no wonder. They were married in real life for 30 years until his death in 2001 at age 65. They are also marvelous actors, conveying the loneliness, frustrations, and independence that come with being single for a long time. Their discovery of their need for each other makes for charming, heartfelt, and funny television.

Interestingly, creator Bob Larbey tried to launch a U.S. television version of A Fine Romance in 1983. The pilot starred Julie Kavner (Airplane!) as Laura and Leo Burmester as Mike. It's sounds like a remarkably accurate remake of the British series first episode. CBS did not pick up the pilot, though it received a good review in The New York Times: "A Fine Romance is far closer to awkward reality than to escapist fantasy. The show manages to be remarkably sensitive about its comedy."

A Fine Romance is currently being streamed on Acorn TV.

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