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Sardonic, well-written political drama, but too-dislikable Titmuss
Except for the overbearing and eventually tiresome personification of conservative party odd-man-out Titmuss, this British miniseries is an entertaining John Mortimer special. By the concluding episode I was tired of watching the insufferable creep, ably played, if one-note, by David Threlfall, and wished that Mortimer had focused on co-star Kristin Scott Thomas's character more instead.
Taken for what it is, one has to suspend one's disbelief entirely to get into the convolutions of the Threlfall/Scott Thomas romance. Kristin, who has made a career of subtly expressing her feelings on screen in complex and even mysterious roles, is hard-pressed to make this one believable, as she is contorted every which way but loose by Mortimer in order to keep his pot and plot boiling.
Show is a followup to Mortimer's successful PARADISE POSTPONED series, but lacks that one's balance. With white steaks in his hair Threlfall returns as Leslie Titmuss, a Conservative Party leader who makes no bones about his resentment at the snooty upper class, as he is a self-made working class stiff whose coarseness is likely to offend. A telling early scene where he meets future wife Jenny (Scott Thomas) at a luncheon has him confusing ballet with opera, much to the nasty merriment of his hosts.
Mortimer works in a scathing critique of Conservative Party hypocrisy and cruel measures, in the form of a city-building construction project poised to despoil the lovely British countryside where Titmuss and Jenny have begun homemaking in his inherited mansion. This is typical of teleplays of the Thatcher and beyond era (I recently watched the various (and far more effective) Ian Richardson series HOUSE OF CARDS, TO PLAY THE KING and THE FINAL CUT in this vein). Mortimer coarsens the proceedings with some asinine audience-baiting sex comedy, involving nasty underling Peter Capaldi and his cast-against-type girl friend Holly De Jong, that I found annoying and eventually downright silly.
Brilliant thesping by Scott Thomas, aided and abetted by her BFF Sue Bramble, almost put TITMUSS over the top. But Threlfall's sleazy behavior, obnoxious manner and nearly cryptic antics in the final reels kill it stone dead. The drama climaxes with his obsession to TMZ-style get the dirt about Jenny's deceased first husband Sidonia, who he proves was not the ideal, always-truthful saint Jenny remembers. Her reaction to Titmuss's disgusting muckraking and invasion of her personal life & memories, followed by Titmuss's defensive reaction to her, is completely unconvincing and almost ludicrous. Mortimer relies on a gullible audience to believe everything and anything it's told, but I thought he had wandered off into cloud-cuckoo land.
It's a shame, because he could have made the same points about dirty politics and hypocrisy without painting himself into a dramatic corner with no escape. Had this series been made 20 years later, now that Scott Thomas is literally one of the top handful of actresses (or actors for that matter) on the planet, I think she could have pulled rank and demanded a bit more credibility to her character, all to the betterment of the piece.
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