British comic series is pleasant but predictable



With an intentional reference to the hot cinematic affair between Marlon Brando and Maria Schneider in Paris, the creators of "Last Tango in Halifax" decided upon two elderly people--Alan (Derek Jacobi) and Celia (Anne Reid)--meeting again after many years and deciding to marry.

I saw Season 1 and quickly got the idea. Each has a family that will create situations that will continually thwart, intentionally and accidentally, the plans of the leading couple. Hence, the unpredictability of the next planned event becomes very predictable. It is the like plodding through the three long films it took "The Lord of the Ring" gang to get from A to B to CŠ to DŠto the last half hour of the last reel.

It might be only me, but I feel that Jacobi is slumming in this silly role. As hard as he and Reid try to bring some charm into this autumnal love affair, it cloys after too many episodes. But one can give it a try on Public Television, on which even as I write these words the series is being shown.

The alternative is to get the BBC sets, Season Two of which has just been released over here--after having been long available in Great Britain. There are six episodes, each with a running time of about 57 minutes and with welcome subtitles. I believe most will like this series.


I cannot find much reason to recommend the BBC DVD, "A Young Doctor’s Notebook." Drawn from the writings of one Mikhail A. Bulgakov, it tells the incidents (there is hardly a story) of a nameless Young Doctor (Daniel Radcliffe), who is sent to a really back backwater of Russia in 1917 to take over a tiny hospital when his predecessor dies.

Although having graduated the first in his class, he knows nothing of practical doctoring and at least once in three of the four episodes on this disc he nearly kills a patient with his ineptitude. One might call this a black comedy, but I can see no humor in watching a leg amputation with a blunt surgical saw, or in the gushing of blood and puss during procedures which he is forever bungling.

The only interesting feature is the presence of his older self (Jon Hamm) to act (vainly) as mentor, especially advising against the Young Doctor’s growing addiction to morphine. The results of this addiction are seen when there is a jump ahead to 1934 when the Older Doctor is in trouble with the Secret Police.

Radcliffe’s acting is just adequate, but I doubt that he will ever be a really good actor. Hamm is not bad. The two nurses, Anna (Vicki Pepperdine) and Pelageya (Rosie Cavaliero) along with the assistant called The Feldsher (Adam Godfrey) are merely cartoon characters needed by the plot.

I see that eight episodes were filmed, the rest of which I have no desire to see. Radcliffe fans might be interested. Viewers with tender sensibilities will not. Each episode is mercifully only 24 minutes. The usual behind-the-camera bonus is very self-aggrandizing. A matter of taste.

STEREO INTO THE 60s Here is an entry in "The Golden Age of Light Music" series that on the Guild Light Music label that I want to look at again. Having transferred to CD just about every monophonic LP in Great Britain, Guild released some ago an interesting disc titled "Stereo into the 60s." Herein is enjoyable music from a turning point in recording history.

What I appreciate most about this series is hearing pieces for the first time by composers of whom I know nothing. Next, I love to hear orchestral versions of popular songs from Tin Pan Alley, the British equivalent of TPA, and film scores. On this CD, the last category is represented by "Night and day," "Bidin’ my time," "What is there to say," and themes from "One Eyed Jacks," "Ruby Gentry" and "The Alamo."

Among the orchestras are those conducted by Cyril Ornadel, Frederick Fennell, Mantovani, David Rose, Morton Gould, and Billy Vaughn. All in all, the perfect disc for casual listening--as are all collections from this Golden Age series.


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