Robert Hardy tour de force, with Dame Judi perfect in support
Judi Dench gets top billing on screen in this engrossing Michael Frayn play for British TV, but it is Robert Hardy's show in the role of an uptight, buttoned-down corporate exec whose life is all business.
Frayn's subject is the corrosive affect of a society built around "sell, sell, sell", in this case Brits stationed at a Berlin subsidiary of their office design corporation. Ensemble cast fleshes out various types, with a showy role for Steffanie Pitt (offspring of Hammer favorite Ingrid Pitt) as an ebullient German girl manning the company's display booth.
While Hardy is typically brilliant as the fast-talking, one-track mind guy who everyone fears will suffer a heart attack (a script ploy Frayn milks for surprise and pathos), it is the incomparable professionalism of Dench that makes this a must-see. Her role is relatively small, but she pumps life and individuality into the part of a secretary who is submissive to her male colleagues, but not a stock figure but an empathetic, Julie Harris-esque vulnerable woman.
I saw Tom Courtenay in a wonderful (but relatively obscure) Frayn play "Clouds" over 40 years ago in London, and admire his work greatly. This minor effort is another example of a talented playwright, so well-known for "Noises Off" and more recently "Copenhagen".
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