A mild but ultimately satisfying British television film adapted by Andrew Davies ( Pride and Prejudice ) from Angela Lambert's novel, A Rather English Marriage (1998) won numerous BAFTA awards as well as a Peabody, and reunites stars Albert Finney and Tom Courtenay 15 years after their pairing in The Dresser, for which both were nominated for Oscars, and which this in many ways resembles.
The Koch Vision/E1 Entertainment's DVD is an okay, full-frame presentation of the 100-minute show (not 104, as stated on the packaging), which appears to have been shot in Super 16. There are no extra features.
Reggie (Finney), a self-involved, pompous ex-RAF flier who married into money, and milquetoast Roy (Courtenay), a former NCO during the war and devoted husband, lose their wives to illness on the same day at the same hospital. Reggie's wife leaves almost all her money to her two adult nieces (one of whom is played by Rosamund Pike); Reggie is awarded only a small stipend and allowed to remain at her large estate until his death, after which time the house is to be given to charity.
A social worker suggests the two men live together in Reggie's mansion: Roy could stay there rent-free while helping with domestic chores Reggie has no experience or desire doing, and each could enjoy the other's company. It's an awkward arrangement at first; Reggie treats Roy like a servant, at other times like an officer in the RAF would an enlisted man. (Reggie likes to be called "Squadron Leader.") Eventually, Reggie becomes involved with a much younger woman, 52-year-old Liz (Joanna Lumley) who owns a struggling boutique in town. Initially, she seems to be a heartless gold-digger, but it turns out to be much more complicated than that.
At its core, however, the Rather English Marriage of the title isn't so much a reference to the men's marriages with their late wives, which they discuss with one another, and which are partly revealed in flashbacks Reggie experiences (suggesting, possibly, advancing senility?); rather, it refers to their own Odd Couple-esque relationship, one that mirrors in a lot of ways the actors' characters in The Dresser, with Roy becoming (initially) the subservient wife to Reggie's presumptive husband. Reggie bosses Roy around, but Roy finds Reggie's pomposity amusing and on some level enjoys caring for the overbearing windbag.
Reggie refuses to admit that he's become an old man, that he's no longer the once-dashing fighter pilot and ladies man of his youth, though he still frequents a brothel and they indulge his vanity. He's blustery and larger-than-life, a modern day Colonel Blimp. Finney seems to enjoy playing characters that are almost caricatures, broadly played outwardly with fragile interiors, in many cases hiding behind a kind of mask in order to suppress some long-buried pain. For instance, when he played Ebenezer Scrooge in Ronald Neame's 1970 musical, it was anything but a subtle performance, but also clearly deliberate because flashback scenes revealed a painful past Scrooge wanted to bury. Finney's Reggie is much the same; early on, Finney is so broad and such a contrast to Courtenay's shrinking violent he tends to completely overwhelm the film's first act. But, like Scrooge, it's not hamminess but a deliberate and legitimate decision by the actor to play Reggie as a stereotypically pompous man of means and Battle of Britain veteran, in order to stifle painful memories about a past tragedy from which he'll never really recover.
Nevertheless, Finney's performance is still pretty hard to take - until, that is, the cracks in Reggie's armor begin to show, gradually revealing a character not nearly as robust and unflappable as he first appears to be. It's a long wait, but the payoff in A Rather English Marriage's last half-hour is worth it. Similarly, Courtenay's character is slowly revealed to be much more complex in terms of his relationship with a troubled son. His performance is a kind of late-career Stan Laurel, but a Stan that doesn't take any crap from Oliver.
Video & Audio
A Rather English Marriage is presented in its original full frame format and looks okay but utterly unspectacular. The same holds true for the Dolby Digital stereo audio. There are no Extra Features.
Finney and Courtenay make this worthwhile, and a few transcendental moments during the last half-hour - such as a fine moment where Reggie and Roy dance to a recording of "Slow Boat to China," each imagining they're dancing with their late wives, all work to make A Rather English Marriage a Recommended title for those who enjoy British television drama, this despite the bare-bones aspect of the disc.
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