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A late comedy from G. B. Shaw about . . . wait for it . . . Economics: or How Britain's Wealthiest Heiress Dumped Her Useless Philandering Husband, Her Useless Ne'er-do-well Escort and Found Happiness With an Egyptian Doctor to the Poor. Shaw wrote this one to be acted in UPPERCASE and that's just how the cast plays in this BBC Play of the Month production. You have to hang in there during the opening scene as Shaw carefully lays out the relationships & themes, but this gives us time to adjust to the larger-than-life theatrical style the stellar cast use. It's no surprise to find Maggie Smith a mannered marvel, but note how subtly she trims her style as the play deepens in feeling & philosophy into a more naturalistic mode without losing Shavian attitude or altitude. (She must prove herself to the good doctor by living for six months on just her wits & labor.) By Act II, Smith's become a warm beauty after her off-putting entrance. Only Wendy Hiller has equaled her at turning Shaw's female paradoxes into people. The play remains minor Shaw, but it grows on you. Nice shiny transfer from the original PAL video system, too.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
She may be considered a lady, but in society, there's a different name
for her that isn't used unless describing the resident of a kennel.
This paraphrase from "The Women" is a perfect way to describe Epifania,
the wealthiest and most unhappy woman in England who is sad that her
father's estate was reduced from hundreds of millions of pounds to
about 35,000,000. She is one of those ridiculously silly women who is
certain that money not only buys happiness, it retains it, keeps
husbands under her thumb, and her lovers even closer. She thinks she
can make a penniless Egyptian doctor her next conquest just by snapping
her fingers. Epifania can also be ragingly violent, something her
latest lover Charles Gray accidentally finds out when he insults her
father and how he increased their estate.
This is a much more faithful adaption of the George Bernard Shaw play than the 1960 Sophia Loren/Peter Sellers comedy which focused only on the relationship between Epifania and the Egyptian doctor and utilized the gallery of acting tricks by Sellers to entice his fans while utilizing the Shaw name after the Broadway production of "My Fair Lady" (based upon Shaw's "Pygmallion") was a smash hit. You definitely will not like the character Smith plays, but the actress, you will adore every mark she makes, from her entrance, pushing her fur clad self through the unfortunate people standing in her way through the snobby way she talks to everybody around her, even intruding in on a man's coat factory and taking over everything in the process. This is a woman who knows what she wants, and what that is means running everybody around her. Leona Helmsley should have been so classy in her Queen of Mean reign as Smith's delightfully eccentric reigns terror over everybody in her way. This is the type of wealthy woman that gigolos should avoid at all cost!
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