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Even 20-odd years after the fact (and with it's late-70s sexual
looking humorously dated these days), Carla Lane's 'Butterflies' remains
the freshest and funniest sitcoms Britain ever produced. The story itself
relentlessly simple -- a stifled housewife's yearning for more in her
complicated by a distantly ironic husband, two sex-crazed still-at-home
and the romantic attention of a wealthy playboy whose desire revs up the
undesirable she feels. But it's not the plot that makes 'Butterflies'
as it is the opportunity that that plot gives Lane to explore Ria
as it slowly collapses around her, and it's impossible not to see a little
oneself in the sometimes-hilarious, sometimes-sobering struggles of Lane's
memorable characters as they attempt to survive the small anguishes of
day-to-day life. Smart writing and great performances all
A few years back, 'Butterflies' would show up in late-night rotation on PBS in the states and Canada; if it does again, catch it.
Far superior to the majority of sitcoms, "Butterflies" is a gentle, subtle, elegant delight. It tells the story of Ria (Wendy Craig) - a middle aged housewife with a family who becomes friends with a loveable, self-indulgent businessman but cannot take the relationship any further due to her loyalty to her husband. Much of the programme deals with her dreamy, wistful nature which results in a few overcooked meals. The acting by the three leads is superb. Geoffrey Palmers conservative manner and appearance maker him perfect as Ria's conventional dentist husband and Wendy Craig's charm and grace make 'Ria' especially sympathetic. Sometimes philosophical, sometimes poetic, "Butterflies" should be adored by a discerning audience.
Once you read through all the viewers' comments, you can see that
"Butterflies" had a devoted crop of followers who found this show
fresh, gentle, involving and - funny. Even today I think back fondly
for that show. I watched each week, and I was so grateful for each of
these wonderful characters. Geoffrey Palmer was remarkable in playing
what I would think a difficult role (makes me think of the husband's
part in "Iris," or a couple of the husbands in "Enchanted April").
Ria's character was of course the center, and I appreciated her
situation - even sympathized with her, for I was in her kind of spot
when I got hooked on the series.
"Butterflies" showed real people making sense of their lives. I loved it!
British comedies tend to fall into one of two main types: the quiet,
introspective, usually romantic study and the farcical social satire.
Settings, characters, and concepts vary but certain characteristics place
the vast majority of shows into one of the two categories. Butterflies is
perhaps the epitomé of the first type.
The scripts are very verbal, including long interior monologues by the main character Ria, a basically happy but unsettled housewife curious about what she might have missed out on when she embarked on a thoroughly conventional life. When she meets a successful but clumsy and emotionally accessible businessman (who makes his interest in her quite clear), she toys with the idea of finding out what the other path might have offered.
The acting and scripts are always on the money, which makes one's reaction to the show almost entirely a personal one: I was neither blown away by it nor turned off. My mother, on the other hand, adored this show. I think the degree to which one identifies with Ria's dilemma is the most important factor in determining one's reaction to Butterflies.
"Butterflies" bears the unfortunate label of being a "gentle" British comedy..which is something of a misnomer. Dramedy, if that word still exists, would fit the bill better. Gentle, yes, so don't tune in expecting gut-busters or you will be sorely disappointed. Instead, smiles (not guffaws) come from how relatable the characters are and how well underplayed they are. The main storyline (Ria is bored with her marriage and her life; should she succumb to the excitement of an extramarital affair?) won't appeal to everyone but if you enjoy following character development week after week and have an attention span that meets or exceeds 25 minutes, you may well enjoy "Butterflies". In addition to the wonderfully wry Wendy Craig the cast includes "As Time Goes By" favorite/britcom perennial Geoffrey Palmer.
Looking back over the past 28 years (since my first exposure to the
show), all i can say is: Once you get it-it will stay with you forever.
I remember my initial reaction being: 1) annoyingly overacted, 2)under
produced 3) unlikeable characters
Well, two years later I watched some episodes again and didn't find it nearly as annoying. A year later I was able to catch the entire series from the beginning and quickly became engrossed in it's bittersweet tale of human fault and perspectives on happiness. Yes, the show has a style that is not for everybody, and I'm sure the dated production value would be hard to deal with now. But, I still think about the show at least once a month with a vague teary eyed longing for what seemed like simpler times...
BTW I am a married man...(for all who think this is a show for females)
This series could very well be the best Britcom ever, and that is
saying a great deal, considering the competitors (Fawlty Towers, Good
Neighbours, to name just two).
What made Butterflies so superior, even to the best of the best, is that it did not just exemplify great, classic, classy and intelligent comedy, but it also expanded horizons, reflecting - flawlessly, gently, and at every detail - the great social change that was occurring in Britain at the time.
I remember watching this show as a teenager and being in awe of everything about it. The lifestyle depicted was remarkable in itself. This was the first time I saw real people using cordless phones. And the wardrobe of all the characters was far removed from the goofy seventies attire still seen in North America at the time. Then there were the decors, shop fronts, cars. These people - even the layabout sons, with their philosophical approach to life and epigrammatic humor - were sophisticated. They were examples of the "New Europeans" that would come to have an impact on life and style throughout the world in the coming decade (1980s).
Of course, the premise was strange and fantastic. The idea that someone who was living the suburban dream could be so discontent and restless was revolutionary, particularly to North Americans for whom happiness was always defined as money and things (sure the situation was depicted in American movies and TV, but not with the intensity of Butterflies or the movie Montenegro). And, if the premise was not surprising enough, the means by which it was expressed took it to the extreme. A potential affair that was not really about sex, or even romance? Butterflies dazzled many, but it must have left some people smacking their foreheads in disbelief... at the time anyway.
Butterflies turned out to be - in so many ways - prophetic. It documented, ahead of its time - post-modern ennui, all-pervasive lifestyle, the notion of emotional infidelity, and generational disconnect and male discontent (portrayed perfectly by the strained father-son relationships). It is too bad this series has not been rediscovered in a big way, and all those involved given credit for creating a meaningful snapshot of a certain time and place, and foreseeing all the slickness and angst that was to come.
This delightful series boasts a first-rate cast and original scripts. Principally from Ria's (the housewife) point of view, this low-key and often whistful comedy shows a mid-life crisis as it not only affects her, but those around her. The laughs come from reality-based comedy situations, and from self- or situation-recognition. I don't think there's a single disappointment here.
This is one of the most subtle comedies to come out of the UK. Not as brash or slapstick as a lot of others. Lots of character development, especially the lead, Ria, played by Wendy Craig. Every middle aged woman I know that has seen Butterflies relates to the frustrations that Wendy portrays so well, not just the stale marriage and longing for romantic adventure, but also the idea of being a stay-at-home "kept woman". The extra kicker is that she isn't even a good housewife. Lousy cook etc. Luckily, her long suffering husband has learned to cope with her, keeping his head down, and advising his sons to "act normally" as they listen to Ria's frustrations pour out. The whole supporting cast was so well chosen, from Ria's erstwhile lover to the house cleaner who takes the sons girly books home for her husband to read. Brilliant writing and direction. Not to be missed by anyone over 40.
This is an excellent British Comedy. Wendy Craig is amazing as Ria the bored housewife, Geoffrey Palmer is fantastic, as usual , as Ben Ria's dentist husband who just doesn't understand how she can be unhappy. The boys Russell and Adam are hilarious. This is Brit coms at their best. Dry humor and all. Try it. One of the best!
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