From the vaults of British television comes a comedy gem starring two consummate actors who were also a couple in real life: Dame Judi Dench (Iris, Shakespeare in Love) and her husband Michael Williams (Educating Rita). They play a pair of middle-aged, dating-game dropouts as wary of romance as they are perfect for each other.
Laura, a brainy translator, and Mike, a shy landscape gardener, are introduced by Laura’s glamorous younger sister, who is intent on finding a mate for her spinsterish sibling. Awkward and rumpled, Mike drives an old wreck and fails to impress the prickly Laura. Still, Mike senses an opportunity, if only he can find the courage to pursue it. From this unpromising beginning, the pair lurch and swerve their way to companionship, friendship, and, finally, love. This is a fine, funny, and all-too-real romance. Written by Bob Larbey (As Time Goes By).
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As the Jerome Kern-Dorothy Fields standard goes, this is A Fine Romance, a smart and low-key 1981 British series starring Oscar-winning Judi Dench and her real-life husband, Michael Williams, as a mismatched couple. In the first nine episodes, a comedy of errors keeps linguist Laura (currently translating a German textbook on urinary infections) and struggling landscape gardener Michael from hooking up romantically. It is, to again quote the song, a fine romance with no kisses (at least not until episode 6). Like Glenda Jackson, Dench excels at portraying prickly women of fierce intelligence who possess a quick wit and a sharp tongue, and who do not suffer fools. "I don't have any small talk," she complains to her matchmaking sister at a party. "Or any medium talk." Williams has a rumpled Dudley Moore quality as sad-sack Michael, "the odd single chap for the odd single girl." He is, as one character notes, "second division": quiet, nervous, short, and shy. His desperate attempts to find common ground with Laura--witness their ill-fated excursion to an ethnic mask museum exhibit in episode 2--make up much of the humor of these initial episodes.
In the nine episodes that comprise the second season. the mismatched couple moves in together, deal with jealousy, throw an ill-fated dinner party, fret over Mike's struggling business, meet Laura's parents, and in the poignant cliffhanger, contemplate parenthood (she wants a baby, he does not). You don't have to be British to enjoy this intimately observed human comedy (there is nothing like it on American television). But in the case of one episode's running joke, in which Mike is mistaken for some obscure (in this country, at any rate) celebrity, it no doubt helps.
Do Mike and Laura appear to be in shambles in the final eight episodes? Laura is much more sympathetic and vulnerable in these poignant episodes (she won Britain's equivalent of the Emmy) as she contends with Mike's reluctance to become a parent, his new girlfriend, and ultimately, his shouted marriage proposal. A final crisis involving their dream farmhouse seems to be "the final reckoning" for the luckless couple. Not to worry: A Fine Romance ends on a welcome and satisfyingly graceful note. --Donald Liebenson
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