THE DVD SHELF: "Strictly Ballroom," "Broadway Musicals," Judi Dench in "A Fine Romance" and Ian McKellen in "The Scarlet Pimpernel"

By Steven Suskin
21 Apr 2013

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Acorn brings us two other items of interest. A Fine Romance is a British sitcom about a likable-but-awkward middle-aged translator who meets a likable-but-awkward middle-aged landscape gardener. They engage, over four seasons starting in 1981, in what Astaire & Rogers termed—in the words of Dorothy Fields—"A Fine Romance." A good deal of the enjoyment comes from watching the real-life married couple playing the roles, Judi Dench and Michael Williams. The four-disc set includes all 26 episodes. Charming, sweet and very British.

For those in search of something in the swashbuckling department, we have the 1982 TV version of The Scarlet Pimpernel. Not quite the same as watching the old Leslie Howard film, but this Clive Donner production adds color and dash to the mix. The stars, too, enhance the fun. Anthony Andrews, who had just graduated from "Brideshead Revisited," is British fop Percy Blakeney. (Spoiler: he is really that "demned illusive" Scarlet Pimpernel, waging his own underground war against the evils of the French Revolution.) Jane Seymour plays his French-born wife Marguerite St. Just, who doesn't understand why her husband presents such a foolish face to the world. The better to hide his true identity, of course; but "Pimpernel"—which began life as a play in 1903, followed by a series of novels—seems to have been the first major piece of fiction to devise the plotline of the meek-mannered milquetoast/nebbish who is really a super man. Or even a Superman or Zorro or Batman, etc.

Representing the blood-thirsty revolutionaries and eating up French and British scenery is Ian McKellen as the villainous Chauvelin. He does not get the girl, and he wants every passing "aristo" to pay. If McKellen and Seymour display crackling chemistry, it is not without reason; they filmed this TV movie just after starring together as Salieri and Constanze in the original 1980 Broadway cast of Amadeus.

(Steven Suskin is author of "Show Tunes" [Oxford], “The Sound of Broadway Music: A Book of Orchestrators and Orchestrations,” “Second Act Trouble,” the "Broadway Yearbook" series and the “Opening Night on Broadway” books. He can be reached at