"A Fine Romance" is, pardon the awful and obvious pun, a fine example of relatively safe, if wholly uninspired sitcom television managing to establish a lasting place in the consciousness of viewers through two lead actors, to put it bluntly, working far beneath their talents and skills. Running a mere 26-episodes from 1981 to 1984 on British television, "A Fine Romance" took the classic sitcom convention of the trials and tribulations of a new and unexpected romantic pairing and offer viewers something far more magical than one might expect by filling two sitcom roles with two esteemed, classically trained actors: Judi Dench and Michael Williams, who just happened to be married in real life. While Dench would go on a decade later to revisit the formula in a farm more sentimental, more soundly produced and often semi-dramatic series, "As Time Goes By," the actual on-screen chemistry allows for a sitcom series with far more earnest breadth and depth than one could hope from any random pairing of actors.
Dench and Williams are Laura Dalton and Mike Selway, respectively; the former a seemingly ditzy translator and the latter, a tried-and-true blue-collar gardener, who when faced with Dench's sometimes forceful spirit, comes off as quite nebbish. The series likes to play with the will they or won't they formula quite fast and furious, throwing Mike and Laura, true opposites, together, only to pull them apart over petty incidents, quite often Laura's juvenile antics, only to bring them together as unlikely business partners who continually realize, that there are hurdles to overcome, but there is a mystical attraction between them that mustn't be ignored. The series is very, steadfastly rooted in the sitcom origins of the entire scenario and quite honestly, things move from a relationship standpoint unrealistically fast, but as expected for the genre. Early into season two, the series hits a stride of covering familiar ground including misinterpreted romantic intentions (i.e. early proposals) and the classic scenario of jealously on both parts courtesy of the opposite sex. The writing for the series is merely workmanlike and "A Fine Romance" does nothing to reinvent this narrative wheel, but viewers keep coming back most assuredly for Dench and Williams.
Simply knowing Dench and Williams' backgrounds on the stage, specifically working with Shakespeare make their performances extra special to watch, as they hit all the outward character points, but bring that extra special something to the table: their real life love for one another. On more than one occasion, the comedy takes a semi-serious turn and when Mike and Laura have a heart to heart regarding their feelings for one another, it feels less like a goofy gardener and spoiled translator and more like two accomplished actors sharing a real moment of introspection of their love for one another, a love that likely led them to this minor entry (at least for Dench) in their respective filmographies. The pair were married in real life for nearly 30 years before Williams' untimely death and on a personal level, it makes the series a tad more enjoyable to see the two having fun with material that is quite frankly not challenging and borderline uninspired at times.
To be frank, I've seen the scenarios covered in "A Fine Romance" covered better in other sitcoms (in many ways, I could draw parallels to Sam and Diane in "Cheers," but that relationship was far more intelligently written) and aside from Dench and Williams, the supporting cast feels like placeholders in many situations. At only 26-episodes, the series breezes by quite quickly and if you're able to get over the unrealistic pace the relationship takes, it's an inoffensive, reassuring journey. Quite often the British approach to making television is praised for its shorter seasons, but the six-episode per season/series pace of "A Fine Romance" is more a negative in this case; a couple more episodes here and there for each season/series would have allowed the narrative progression some needed breathing room and in the end, hidden some of the shortcomings of the series as a whole. More than 30 years after its initial airing though, people aren't coming back to "A Fine Romance" for logic or drama, they are coming for a memorable sitcom relationship brought to life, expertly by a real-life pair of thespians.
The 1.33:1 original aspect ratio transfers are in a bit of rough shape. Colors are on the natural-ish side of the spectrum, while detail is below average. There is consistent digital noise/grain and compression artifacts are minor but evident. Like many series from England, especially those a few decades old, the show looks cheap and has evidence of the transfer being from video.
The Dolby Digital English Mono soundtrack is acceptable but notably flat; the title theme is overpowering to the point of feeling shrill compared to the actual dialogue of the show. English SDH subtitles are included.
Production notes from writer Bob Larbey are the lone extra.
"A Fine Romance" is far from a stupid sitcom, but it definitely has a dated feel. The writing goes at a breakneck pace, attempting to cover all the ups and downs of a burgeoning relationship and while, wholly entertaining, the pace gives the story an unrealistic feel. The performances of Michael Williams and Judi Dench anchor the show from start to finish and having watched Dench command the silver screen for years following the end of this series, it's a treat to go back and see her play such a radically different character than she's known for in recent memory. Highly Recommended.