Siblings and couples collide at a summer cottage in ITV's The Norman Conquests
(which also aired on PBS). Playwright Alan Ayckbourn presents the scenario from the kitchen, garden, and family room. In Table Manners
, Reg (Richard Briers, Monarch of the Glen
) and his wife, Sarah (Penelope Keith, To the Manor Born
), drop by to relieve his sister, Annie (Penelope Wilton, Downton Abbey
), who's been looking after their mother. Sarah believes Annie carries a torch for humor-impaired vet Tom (David Troughton, New Tricks
), which is true, but she's also been considering a tryst with Norman (Tom Conti, Merry Christmas Mr. Lawrence
), who's married to her sister, Ruth (Fiona Walker, I, Claudius
As Ayckbourn weaves from one conversation to the next--and the dandelion wine flows--it emerges that prim and proper Sarah and quick-witted Reg have seen better days. The same goes for bushy-haired Norman (a dead ringer for Serpico-era Al Pacino) and work-obsessed Ruth, which leads to a silent breakfast on Saturday, an awkward dinner on Sunday, and an ironic resolution on Monday. The other plays, Round and Round the Garden and Living Together, which also operate as independent entities, provide additional conversations, allowing for a fuller picture of the six protagonists.
Instead of opening up the set-bound sections, director Herbert Wise (I, Claudius) uses intense close-ups at key points. As with Ayckbourn's Intimate Exchanges, which became two films by Alain Resnais, the characters can be grating at first--as Norman tells Sarah, "You're like mild athlete's foot"--but start to feel like old friends once they reveal the different facets of their personalities. They may be exasperating, but they're also amusing and oddly likable, especially Norman, a master manipulator in the guise of a class clown. In 2009 Ayckbourn won a Tony Award for the Broadway revival. --Kathleen C. Fennessy
Passions flare and tempers rise when three couples cross paths at a country house one weekend. It all begins with the arrival of Reg (Richard Briers, Good Neighbors) and his wife, Sarah (Penelope Keith, To the Manor Born). They’ve come to give Reg’s younger sister, Annie (Penelope Wilton, Match Point), a few days’ break from caring for their bedridden mother. However, Annie confides that she’s seeing someone—not Tom (David Troughton, Fingersmith), the single young vet who’s pursuing her, but her brother-in-law, Norman (Tom Conti, Shirley Valentine). Appalled, Sarah informs Norman’s wife, Ruth (Fiona Walker, I, Claudius)—and all hell breaks loose.
Emmy® nominated for best writing, this trilogy is adapted from the hit plays by Alan Ayckbourn. Designed to be watched in any order, it views the same course of events from three different vantage points. From Saturday evening to Monday morning, the action unfolds around the kitchen table, outside in the garden, and in the family room—each segment a masterful performance by a marvelous ensemble cast.
Due to the age of these programs and the improved resolution that DVD provides, you may notice occasional flaws in the image and audio on this DVD presentation that were beyond our ability to correct from the original materials.