"The Magnificent Evans" is a forgotten sitcom from 1984 starring Ronnie Barker as Plantagenet Evans, a flamboyant Welsh photographer who 'lives in sin' with his assistant Rachel Harris, played by Sharon Morgan.
That is the basic theme of every one of the 6 episodes. The idea is a nice one - a flamboyant photographer, who is completely tactless, living with his girlfriend under the watchful eye of her sister and brother in law. The Wales setting makes a refreshing change, and the locations are wonderfully picturesque. Trouble is, the script is totally muddled and the characters are all one dimensional - disaster for any sitcom.
"Plantagenet Evans" is 'the photographic genius', a local photographer who also sells antiques - but is basically a Welsh version of Arkwright (Open All Hours), as he is just as tight and mean and flirtatious. With most sitcoms of this era there are memorable lines in each episode - but with this sitcom, there is just one in the entire series:
"Evans is taking a wedding photograph of the bride and her father. Evans is not satisfied with the photographic subject, and goes over to the bride. He looks over her unsightly nose and tries to cover it with flowers and her long hair. She begins to protest, and Evans - quite tactlessly, says he's trying to cover up her big nose. He then goes to pull the veil down over her face...
Bride: But it'll be covering my entire face!
Evans: Listen luv, if you've got nothing in the front room its best to close the curtains."
That is the best line out of the 6 episodes. Its very surprising that Roy Clarke can write such a lifeless bunch of episodes as he proved he was the master of wit with Open all Hours, Keeping Up Appearances and in some ways, Last of the Summer Wine. But here the scripts have no theme, no real conflict or situation - its sketchy. The opening monologues by Rachel Harris (Sharon Morgan) at the beginning of the episodes make the show disjointed - you can't help feeling that The Magnificent Evans would have made a better novel than a sitcom.
Another negative is the costume designed for Barker. Watching the first episode you feel the show must be a period piece, what with the design, setting, costumes and Evans' antique car. But then 'modern day' references root it in 1984, which is a total nonsense because they dress Barker in a totally unsuitable costume. He's supposed to be flamboyant, but no one in 1984 would have dressed so flamboyantly - its more 1900 than 1984. It totally confuses the viewer.
Ronnie Barker is his usual brilliant self, but let down so badly by inferior lines. He's really playing second fiddle to Sharon Morgan, who gets far more screen time. Morgan is great with what she's given, but the character does nothing but complain and scowl and say 'I live in my OWN apartment' whenever questioned about her sleeping arrangements with Evans.
William Thomas is awfully un-funny as Probert, mugging at the camera and slurring his lines in an amateurish way, trying desperately to get laughs out of an unfunny script. Myfanwy Talog as Rachel's sister is as boring as her husband (Probert), and the pair offer no comedy value. Most annoying of all is Dickie Arnold as Willie, a toothless idiot who drives Evans' car. He has no lines, so is customary Roy Clarke creation who drives the car badly, breaks things and does everything wrong, in the style of Chaplin etc. Slapstick is funny when it isn't obvious - but here is is very obvious.
A disappointing sitcom - a wasted opportunity to create something different in the genre. All 6 episodes are slow and plodding, there aren't any laughs to be found - either from the characters or situations. Another negative is that there are no recognisable faces in the cast, apart from Barker. One of the joys of classic comedy shows is that recognisable faces from British TV from that time pop up in small parts, but no such luck in this show. Its totally devoid of any fun or humour.
In Memory Of Ronnie Barker 1929-2005
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