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Vintage TV: “We’ll Meet Again” and “Edward the Seventh”

Filmed in 1981 and broadcast early the following year, “We’ll Meet Again” follows the lives of the people of Market Wetherby, a (fictional) small town in Suffolk, in 1943 as the war rages and the Americans arrive on British soil. The main driving plot of the series is the love story between the married Dr. Helen Dereham (played superbly by the late Susannah York) and Major Jim Kiley (Michael J. Shannon). It’s not your usual “illicit affair” kind of storyline, and there are some surprising twists and turns along the way. Dr. Helen is torn between her love for Jim and her duties as a wife to her injured husband Ronnie, mother to Cambridge University student Pat, and general pillar of the community.

Within this main story there are some great subplots – the lovely romance between the unassuming war widow Sally and American Mac, and the ensuing troubles with Sally’s cantankerous mother-in-law Ruby; shop owner Albert Mundy having to deal with his prejudices against the Americans as his son and daughter navigate their way in the world; shy Vi’s blossoming as she falls for Chuck; and the humorous bickering and jostling between the American boys for the affections of landlord’s daughter Rosie. Footage of the planes are interwoven too, so amid the drama and romance you get a sense of the realities of the war too. It’s certainly not all plain sailing in this series, and there are some shocking surprises along the way.

Initially I thought the series was going to be quite slow-moving and unengaging, but a couple of episodes in I was hooked and these characters really get inside your heart. The writing and acting are all of impressive quality, and the pacing really picks up; the thirteen episodes, around an hour in length, fly by and at the end you get the feeling that it could certainly have continued for another series. But for what it is, “We’ll Meet Again” is lovely – funny and sad all at once, and it has aged well.

I’d never seen “Edward the Seventh” until just now; at this time of writing, it was originally screened more than 36 years ago and while certain elements of the series are understandably dated by today’s standards – filming style, shot types – it appears to have lost none of its power to really engage the viewer. It tells the story of Edward the Seventh, or Bertie, from birth to death, through his tricky schooldays to his frustrated philandering as an underused heir apparent, to his eventual role as king. Timothy West is astonishingly good as the adult Bertie, and he is not alone. Alongside the wonderful costumes and plot twists (all based on real history, of course), the main draw of “Edward the Seventh” is the raft of incredible performances. Helen Ryan is superb as the exceptionally tolerant and thoughtful Alix, Robert Hardy is fantastic in the early episodes as Prince Albert, and if all you know of Felicity Kendal is “The Good Life” then she is bound to surprise you with an impressive turn here. But perhaps my favourite performance is Annette Crosbie’s as Queen Victoria; Crosbie, who was in her early forties when the series was produced, plays Victoria from early adulthood to death (it’s a remarkable feat of ingenious make-up and costuming!) with breathtaking aplomb and deservedly won a BAFTA for the performance. I was actually quite taken aback by the nuance and strength of her performance, as I was with the entire cast.

The writing is uniformly strong, it looks great, and at 50 minutes each, the thirteen episodes move along at a brisk pace. I was captivated, having not much knowledge of this period in history and having never seen the series before. Proof that great shows really are built to last and can find new audiences decades after their original production.

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