Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Very British, Indeed

By David Luhrssen
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Veteran British actor Albert Finney is magnificent in A Rather English Marriage (1999). For the award-winning UK television drama (out now on DVD), Finney plays Squadron Leader Reggie Conyngham-Jervis, an upper-class Englishman of ponderous and slightly ridiculous dignity. While his wife is dying in hospital, he meets another World War II veteran about to become a widower, the plebeian Roy Southgate. Where Jervis is unflappable and indefatigable, all bluff and bluster, Southgate is retiring and unassertive.

At the suggestion of social services, Southgate moves in with Jervis for companionship and to help with housekeeping. Its an English odd couple without any presumption of equality. When Southgate asks what they should call each other, Jervis replies, You can call me Squadron Leader and Ill call you Southgate. The class system endures.

Before long Jervis refers to Southgate as my man to house guests and has him waiting table. But A Rather English Marriage is more than a British comedy of manners. Its also a penetrating examination of aging, relationships and the varied meanings of love and compassion.

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