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A Fine Romance

By Donald Liebenson

As the Jerome Kern-Dorothy Fields standard goes, this is A Fine Romance, a smart and low-key 1981 British series starring Oscar-winning Judi Dench and her real-life husband, Michael Williams, as a mismatched couple. This three-volume boxed set contains the first nine episodes, in which a comedy of errors keeps linguist Laura (currently translating a German textbook on urinary infections) and struggling landscape gardener Michael from hooking up romantically. It is, to again quote the song, a fine romance with no kisses (at least not until episode 6).

Like Glenda Jackson, Dench excels at portraying prickly women of fierce intelligence who possess a quick wit and a sharp tongue, and who do not suffer fools. "I don't have any small talk," she complains to her matchmaking sister at a party. "Or any medium talk."

Williams has a rumpled Dudley Moore quality as sad-sack Michael, "the odd single chap for the odd single girl." He is, as one character notes, "second division": quiet, nervous, short, and shy. His desperate attempts to find common ground with Laura--witness their ill-fated excursion to an ethnic mask museum exhibit in episode 2--make up much of the humor of these initial episodes.

As one observer notes, "I like you two; you're odd." It is a pleasure to watch Laura and Michael's "mutual apathy" blossom into, well, you know the song.

A Fine Romance, Set 2 contains the nine episodes that comprise the second season of this popular 1980s Britcom. Judi Dench (that's Oscar-winner Dame Judi Dench to you) and real-life husband Michael Williams star as prickly translator Laura and "grubby little gardener" Mike, who tentatively navigate their fledgling romance. In these episodes, the mismatched couple move in together, deal with jealousy, throw an ill-fated dinner party, fret over Mike's struggling business, meet Laura's parents, and in the poignant cliffhanger, contemplate parenthood (she wants a baby, he does not). Don't look for any Sam-and-Diane sexual chemistry here. Like the song says, this is a fine romance with no kisses (Mike, while a decent chap, is not the most stimulating of characters). You don't have to be British to enjoy this low-key, intimately observed human comedy (there is nothing like it on American television). But in the case of one episode's running joke, in which Mike is mistaken for some obscure (in this country, at any rate) celebrity, it no doubt helps.


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 Your Memories Shared!

"I can sit down and watch certain episodes of AFR and destress myself with a seriously good laugh. Judi and Michael fit together so well and prempt each move the other makes. Thank goodness for British comedy and especially this very fine series. I have watched it many times and have never tired of the incredible talent of Judi Dench and how she can pull a laugh from the smallest of lines."

--Chris from Australia

"I love this show - our PBS station plays it every Friday night! It took me a few showings for it to grow on me, but Judi and Michael were a fantastic team. I've read that he died. I really enjoy watching another show called As Time Goes By that she is in."


"I just watched the first nine episodes for the first time this week. They are subtle but they still get to you! So sweet. It was sad to think that both male characters have passed away since."


"Just a little note to tell you we don't have the best entertaiment here in Saudi Arabia. Great was my surprise when we got the serie " A Fine Romance" last winter. I loved every episode. We always hate the way they repeat every serie at least three times, but this time it was a treat. I think it was the best series ever. The love this couple has and of course now had in real life sure shone through the whole performance. What a classy people and what a great job they did. After all these years, it still is catching and I hope to see it a lot more times. Please give my condolences to Madame Judy and her daughter Finty at the loss of their husband and father."

--G. Groneman-Le Poole Dhahran, Saudi Arabia



Aired: 1981-1984

Cast: Judi Dench, Michael Williams, Susan Penhaligon, Richard Warwick

Network: Public Television

Genre: Sitcom

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