A Fine Romance

 

A Fine Romance: Complete Collection

Created & Written by Bob Larbey

Theme Music by Jerome Kern & Dorothy Fields

Produced by James Cellan Jones, Graham Evans & Don Leaver

Directed by James Cellan Jones and Don Leaver

First Aired on London Weekend Television/ITV, 1981-84

 

Featuring:

Judi Dench

Michael Williams

Susan Penhaligon

Richard Warwick

  

Production Studio:

Theatrical: London Weekend Television

Video: ITV Studios Global via Acorn Media

 

Video

Aspect ratio: 1.30:1

Resolution: 480

Codec: MPEG-2

Disc Size: DVD x 4

Bit Rate: Moderate~High (ca. 7 Mbps)

Runtime: 630 minutes

26 Episodes: avg. 24 min.

Region: 1

 

Audio:

English Dolby Digital 2.0

 

Subtitles:

Optional English SDH

 

Bonus Features

• Production notes from Writer Bob Larbey

 

Presentation:

DVD Clamshell Case: DVD x 4

Street Date: May 7, 2013



Overview [Wikipedia]

The series involves Laura Dalton, played by Dench, a single, middle-aged translator who is somewhat socially inept. Her glamorous younger sister Helen, played by Penhaligon, who is first seen in Janet Reger lingerieand her husband Phil (Warwick) pair her up with Mike Selway (Williams), a shy landscape gardener. The story follows their awkward romance and insecurities. Bad luck seems to follow them everywhere, from the ferry toCalais to an attempted romantic evening watching television. Laura constantly dwells on her beautiful sister's fairy-tale marriage while still retaining an attitude of a child, locking herself in cupboards when things do not go her way. Though immature and tending to fly off the handle, she assists Mike in organizing his struggling business, volunteering her time to type his correspondence and do the bookkeeping. Phil and Helen often regret ever bringing the two together, because they are nearly always involved in the couple's squabbles. Overall, however, Mike and Laura find they cannot live without one another, though they are not able to put it into words.


              

 

The Series:

Yes, Judi Dench was young once – or young-er. Here she is in a British television sitcom, no less, that ran for some 26 episodes over four seasons from 1981-84. In fact, a glance at her credits indicates that TV had pretty much been her home from the early 1960s until just about this point when in 1985 she got to play the irksome Eleanor Lavish in the Ivory/Mercahnt production of A Room with a View, a film that also did much for the careers of one Daniel Day-Lewis and Helena Bonham Carter.

 

The significant other actor in the series was Michael Williams, married to Miss Dench at this time and until his death in 2001. His career never caught fire as did his spouse, but he was always considered a good actor - he's wonderful here - and had consistent work until shortly before his death, mostly for the stage and in British television. His one movie role of note was as the husband in the 1983 Michael Caine/Julie Walters comedyEducating Rita. He was nominated for a Laurence Olivier Theatre Best Supporting Actor Award in 2000 for his performance in The Forest.


               

 

Dench makes rather a lot of the contrast between her and Penhaligon. When Helen tries to be supportive, as in “you’re intelligent,” Laura replies in exasperation “yes, but you can wearJanet Reger lingerie.” There’s hardly an opportunity missed where Laura doesn’t put herself down in comparison to her sister. Funnily enough, Mike, the man Helen and Phil try to fix her up with, is every bit as self-deprecating in his way. Yet they are both smart enough to see that having this in common does not provide the basis for a relationship, especially since they have so little else in common. On one of their earlier dates, Mike suggests dinner out. He offers “Indian?,” She declines and returns with “Chinese?” “No I hate Chinese. How about Italian? “Ok, where?” Silence.


               

 

Of course, they are both loathe to see what they are doing as dating anyhow, so anxious they are that they will disappoint or be disappointed or disappoint their friends. I found Dench rather cute, with her neatly styled short cut, sparkling blue eyes and overbite. She has a way of delivering her lines here that would have made Richard Burton proud. Williams, who reminds me very much of Martin Freeman with a touch of Harvey Keitel, is about the same height and only slightly less stout as his wife so when they are together they do not appear like the proverbial odd couple.


               


I love the title and the title song by Jerome Kern & Dorothy Fields that set the stage for the adventures of Mike & Laura. Ira Gershwin's lyric for Let's Call the Whole Thing Off suits our awkward couple better but the A Fine Romance works better as a title and as transitional music. The Gershwin song is a duet and could have been used as the title music but I agree that Judi singing A Fine Romance is less complicated and easier on the ears.

 

There are several episode arcs that cover a day or two at a time, so it makes sense to watch them in one gulp – only there is no demarcation as to where these arcs are. Not to worry, each season of six or seven 24-minute episodes is over before you know it.


               

 

Video: 7
A Fine Romance is presented in its original television 1.33:1 aspect ratio. The early 1980s show appears on DVD in a better than respectable transfer. The picture quality varies a good deal from scene to scene, but is generally bright and attractive; colors are a bit subdued but accurate. The image is remarkably sharp and coherent oftentimes, with indoor color often thin and flat and a touch faded. Outdoors contrast is inconsistent and somewhat noisy since not nearly as much care is made to bear for the lighting. Fortunately much of the action takes place on set indoors, where the image quality is considerably better. All in all, this is a transfer that should satisfy viewers, especially any who are used to seeing it on VHS. I don’t have Acorn’s 2004 DVD issue for comparison, but this is likely much the same despite its being organized onto four discs instead of six. In any case, the new set makes more sense: one disc per season.


               

 

Audio & Music: 7/9

The Dolby 2.0 track is sufficient for the dialogue-centric sound of A Fine Romance. The characters' voices come across clearly and cleanly; as for music, the song in the opening sequence, sung by Judi Dench herself, is quite charming. Unfortunately, there's no option to hear the episodes without the laugh track. The stage and Foley effects are relatively subdued, but in a sitcom of this vintage, it is the dialogue that we want front and center.

 

Bonus: 2

Disc One includes several pages of Production Notes from Writer Bob Larbey written in 2002.


               

 

Recommendation: 9

A Fine Romance was a smart series in its day and stands the test of time wonderfully, as the subject is of universal, timeless fascination. My only complaint is the persistence of a laugh track, which producers feel, even in England, is necessary to remind people that there is funny afoot.

 

A Fine Romance was originally released in 2004 in a 6-DVD set in the U.S. by Acorn Media, and is still available through some retailers, though out of print. Image quality is respectable on the reissue, sometimes very good indeed, and rarely degenerates into utter nastiness. Dialogue is clear and subtitles are there just in case those strange English phrases need clarification.


    


Leonard Norwitz

© LensViews

May 7, 2013


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