The grand finale and an award winning performance from Penelope Wilton as Pauline, her talents have been showcased in a much better way than Downton Abbey was able to provide. On reflection, Mrs Crawley was too similar to other interfering ladies that Wilton has played throughout her career. Pauline has given a well loved actress a new lease of life and I think the nation stood still as with teary eyes, she told Brian (Peter Wight) that she had known a man before him and that she had a Son who had traced her. The catalyst for this outburst? Ovaltine! What a well chosen moment for the truth to come out.
It’s testament to the gritty and believable writing that such a showdown worked, and indeed that the rest of the finale was wrapped up in a way that leaves the way clear for a second series. There MUST be a second series, ITV has a gem of a production in this series.
The rest of the episode consisted of Steph (Sophie Rundle) pulling off a spectacular event which enable her talents to be noticed by a top dog for Ann Summers! A Unit Manager role is offered and in what is a neat culmination of the character’s efforts throughout the six episodes. That Nita (Angela Griffin) ‘chooses’ that moment to be giving birth backstage after a confrontation with Pauline relating to the accident which left Brian for dead, is genius! Plus, Dawn (Sharon Rooney) is bustling around trying to be the glue while hoping for an appearance from her husband who should be there modelling a willy warmer. When Russell (Will Merrick) does rock up he certainly doesn’t let his Mrs down.
The love triangle between Terry (Karl Davies), Steph and Johnny (Ben Bailey Smith) draws to a conclusion, too. Or it certainly reaches its peak for the sake of the end of the first series, it would be interesting to see what the future will bring.
I was happy with all of the decisions made by the writers for this episode, I’d be even happier with a second series and more than six episodes, please!
Monday night brought us the penultimate episode of Brief Encounters, and it was all kicking off in more ways than one!
Johnny (Ben Bailey Smith) is left disappointed by his mother Pauline’s rejection of him, she as good as admits to being his birth mum, but is not able to offer any sort of relationship with him. Penelope Wilton is playing a fantastic part in this brilliant series, Pauline is one of my favourite characters and Wilton is digging deeper and deeper as an actress, every week. Johnny also faces rejection from Steph (Sophie Rundle), yet again, despite the revelation that Terry (Karl Davies) has possibly fathered a child during his affair. Setting up a great potential storyline to carry over into another series!
Dawn’s (Sharon Rooney) wedding day looks set to have a dark cloud hanging over it when her father rips her wedding dress, a dress which belonged to her late mother. There’s a touching moment when Brian (Peter Wight) offers to walk Dawn down the aisle after she declares that he and Pauline are like her family, now. Even more poignant given that Pauline is denying all knowledge of her natural son. Testament to clever writing, there!
Dawn and Russell (Will Merrick) have a perfect wedding ceremony, a good knees up at their reception and avoid a punch up with Dawn’s father when he turns up to claim his son back.
There looks to be a recurrence of Steph and Johnny’s affair as she has approached him for help with finding Nita’s (Angela Griffin) son. Steph is angry with Terry for admitting to his vengeance on her potential rape perpetrator in the previous week’s episode. Coupled with the fact that it looks likely that his affair cannot be left behind them, where they will end up at the close of the series remains a mystery.
Consistently, this show has succeeded in maintaining several cocurrent storylines and each one has kept my interest. A second series is needed please, ITV!!!
It’s fair to say that this episode centred mainly around Dawn (Sharon Rooney) and her bewildered fiancé Russell (Will Merrick) as the poor lad is trying to fathom how best to let his betrothed down gently.
Yes, Dawn is certainly getting carried away and flashing her cash on the big white wedding she has her heart set on, and Russell is tired of being dragged along in her wake. A conversation with Brian (Peter Wight) results in a cancelled engagement. However, Dawn’s ensuing conversation with the ailing Butcher goes some way towards helping the love birds reunite. Thankfully, say I, as they do seem to be made for one another!
However, as always, in this supremely cleverly written programme, there is more than one drama occurring. Pauline’s (Penelope Wilton) world is spinning on its axis when PC Daniels (Ben Bailey Smith) drops the bombshell that he is indeed, her son. Much as she tries to deny this to his face, it is evident from her behaviour that he is telling the truth. So next week will be interesting!
Steph (Sophie Rundle) comes a cropper as she breaks her own golden rule and visits the house of a caretaker who claims to have a wife who would be cheered up by a party. Disaster is avoided, but her husband Terry (Karl Davies) leaves the culprit in no doubt of his feelings towards the attack on his wife. This plot development seems to go some way towards reconciliation for the troubled couple, but I don’t expect their road to be an easy one, and maybe we’ll be left in limbo as to who Steph will choose. Given the writers’ penchant for a cliff hanger, Steph might continue to be torn between her marriage plight and PC Daniels.
Claire Price is well known on our screens for playing Miriam in Home Fires and she starred as Penelope Wilton’s daughter in The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel. She has also trod the boards, extensively. I caught up with Claire to find out all about her experiences on Home Fires and what it was like to join a star studded cast for Marigold Hotel.
I loved Home Fires, what have your favourite memories of the show, been and what drew you to the character and the show?
I’m so glad you loved Home Fires because I loved making it. It really was one of the most fulfilling and happy jobs I’ve done, with a brilliant crew and creative team, and a cast that has become genuinely close over the last two years. I have lots of fantastic memories of us working together, or sometimes just sitting around on set, held up by rain, waiting to film, chatting and laughing about stuff. I auditioned for a different part originally – and I didn’t take to Miriam when I read the script! It was an odd coincidence that I found myself at the National Archive a few days after that first meeting, helping my partner research his next book, The Secret History of the Blitz, looking at domestic crime in London during that period. There was a particular case that caught my attention, the story of Jack Brack, a low level criminal with a congenital heart defect who was judged unfit to serve in any capacity. His friends came up with a scheme to make money out of his condition, so for a fee, Brack would take medicals on behalf of men who wanted to avoid military service. Eventually the Police became suspicious of the number of men who seemed to have the same rare heart defect and the scam was discovered. In the trial notes, I found the story of a mother who lost her oldest son in the First World War, and offered Brack her life savings to keep her youngest son out of the Second. I had no idea that happened during the war, and no idea that tens of thousands of mothers left their sons off the 1939 Register, as Miriam does. I looked at Miriam very differently after that, she became more real to me, more brave and tragic in her attempt to hold things together. Then I got a call from my agent – the producer, Sue de Beauvoir, and director, Bruce Goodison, wanted me to come in again and this time, read for Miriam. Like so many other things about this lovely job, it was all strangely fortuitous and from that moment, everything fell into place.
Have you a favourite episode or scene from Home Fires?
I particularly loved doing a scene in the first series. Home Fires is a very realistic drama, but in this scene, when Miriam sees the soldiers running past and thinks she sees David, Will Attenborough as David was amongst them, in a soldier’s uniform, so the audience were in Miriam’s head for a split second, sharing her anxious perspective. I loved that! Then she comes back into the butcher’s shop and has to explain to Bryn what just happened, and she knows it’s mad but it’s real to her. That sequence was full of feeling and I was encouraged to take Miriam’s distress quite far.
I loved all my scenes with Dan Ryan, particularly the scene where Miriam and Bryn read the telegram telling them David is missing. That’s the kind of stuff you want to play as an actor, ordinary people in extraordinary circumstances, trying to find a way of bearing the unbearable.
The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel is one of my favourite films. What was it like filming with so many big names and what was your personal highlight?
They were lovely! Very funny and generous, and we laughed a lot. I learned early in my career that movie stars are just actors underneath everything, anxious to do the job right. And if I appeared intimidated by them, that would make things awkward. So I make a point of being normal. It must be a lot of pressure to be very famous, to know that people have such enormous expectations of you.
Dame Judi Dench was invited by the Royal family in Jaipur to visit a newly refurbished floating palace, and she asked if she could bring the other women in the cast as her guests. So we were collected from our hotel, driven to an idyllic lake in the heart of Jaipur, loaded onto boats and taken over the water to this magnificent palace. That was a stunning experience. I also had an incredible day visiting ancient Hindu temples with Seema Asmi (who plays Anokhi in the films) and… Richard Gere! He was completely charming, self-deprecating and kind.
I really loved working with Dame Penelope Wilton (I played her daughter in the film). She is one of my favourite actresses – her performance as Hester in The Deep Blue Sea had such an effect on me. After doing a scene one day, we had some time off and went round a local market together, buying herbs and spices. When I got back to London, I made some incredible curries with those spices!
Who inspires you as an actress? Have you any heroes?
Penelope Wilton! She can be simultaneously so funny and so painfully real. I would stay after finishing my own scenes in Marigold, in order to watch her film hers, because she is so creative, so truthful, and always tries new things, layering and developing as she goes. I was also very inspired by a magnificent actress, Susan Fleetwood, who died quite young. I saw her play Arkadina in The Seagull, and can remember every moment.
Do you have a preference between performing on stage and on screen?
I think like most actors really, I prefer theatre. Theatre belongs to the actor and television to the director. No one can edit your performance on stage, once you’re out there, it’s all down to you. But I have prioritized doing TV and film recently, because it’s hard to live on a theatre salary and the ideal situation is to have a good mix of both. Theatre is emotionally & physically tough, with a mountain that has to be climbed every day, and twice on matinee days. You have to be match fit for plays, with strong breathing and diction, always alive in the moment, always ready and never anticipating anything even if it’s the 95th performance. TV is different, with long days, lots of waiting then short intense bursts of pressure and some very early starts – when filming Home Fires, we were sometimes picked up from our hotel at 5 am, because curling everyone’s hair took HOURS! That means waking at 4 or 4.30, after poor sleep in a hotel bed. So the days are long, but in a show like HF with so many characters, the pressure is distributed and no one ends up doing too many days in a row.
There are some great writers for television, Simon Block’s scripts were a pleasure to act. But theatre has such a huge and venerable history, such an extraordinary canon of writers. I think though, there will be more work for middle aged women on TV. Shakespeare is a done deal and there are not many hefty and brilliant parts for 45 year old women in there – which explains the increasing number of all female productions. It’s television that can respond to what its audience wants. And more and more, that is as yet untold stories and women’s stories. It’s why Call The Midwife is so popular, and why Home Fires caught people’s imagination so strongly. And why it’s such an enormous shame it’s been axed.
Are there any roles you’d love to play or shows you would like to be a part of?
In theatre, I would love to do more Ibsen and Chekhov. Ibsen is my favourite playwright of all, I’ve been in two of his plays, Brand with Ralph Fiennes at the RSC and The Lady from the Sea at Birmingham Rep. They are profound plays and work on many levels. But I’m also more and more interested in doing contemporary plays, like Stephen Waters’ Little Platoons that I did at the Bush Theatre a few years ago about the free school movement. Or David Hare’s The Power of Yes about the banking crisis. Hearing audiences GASP as they suddenly understood how and why the bankers made the mistakes they did, was truly exciting. It felt like being part of the news.
I’ve also started doing some new comedy on Radio 4, with Robert Newman last year, and The World of Simon Rich which is on at the moment on Thursday nights. I love working with comedians, they have a very different approach to actors and it’s a challenge to keep up with them. I actually performed at one of Rob’s live gigs to try out material he was working on for the show. He improvised and I had my lines written down. I had to listen really hard to know when to come in. It was an adventure!
What’s next for you?
Nothing at the moment…An actor’s life!
Favourite things (just for fun, let me have your first reaction to these questions, please):
High Noon with Grace Kelly and Gary Cooper.
I’m not a vegetarian anymore, but I was for years and always loved Mildred’s in Soho. Incredible food.
Weirdly, kick boxing. I have a fantastic DVD and do it in the house. I’m not sure it’s so much fun for the neighbours in the flat below, but I love it. I also do embroidery, but I’ve been working on the same one since filming Rebus. That’s nearly ten years ago. I really need to go a little faster than that.
Guys & Dolls or Fiddler on the Roof.
An Arundel Tomb by Philip Larkin.
A terrific interview from a terrific actress, I hope we see Claire treading the boards or indeed, on our screens again soon.
So, Brian’s (Peter Wight) time wasn’t up after all, following last week’s harrowing episode where the hapless Butcher was left for dead, complete with the flashy engagement ring that he couldn’t afford to buy for Pauline (Penelope Wilton) all those years ago. Although it seems that the secretive businessman couldn’t really afford the ring, now – and while he’s flashed his cash on this piece of bling, the meat supplier is no longer happy to bring the goods without money up front. What does this mean for Pauline and Brian? It means that Pauline resorts to selling naughty knickers and remote controlled vibrating dildos!
Dawn (Sharon Rooney) is distraught when she finds out that her young kid brother is not being looked after properly since her departure from the family home. She can’t help but feel that he’s her responsibility and is desperately seeking a solution.
After an afternoon fumble with PC Johnny (Ben Bailey Smith), Steph (Sophie Rundle) returns to her husband Terry (Karl Davies), although I suspect that many of us were shouting at the telly after this decision! Her mother is still harping on at her to take him back, and appears to have got her way, for now.
Poor Nita (Angela Griffin) is devastated to learn of her husband Kieran’s (Don Gilet) part in Brian’s misfortune, and I expect that will be further investigated next week. A blot on their relationship that they might never recover from, perhaps?
The writing from the pens of Messina and Rusling continues to impress me, they’re a tour de force and they’ve created, in my opinion, one of the best television dramas that ITV has seen for a long time. Kudos, ladies – this is nothing short of perfect.
1982 in the world of Ann Summers demonstrators, ITV have definitely hit the jackpot with this tremendous Monday night viewing. Episode two of Brief Encounters proved to be just as enticing as the first instalment.
Poor Steph is trying to balance her new job as an Ann Summers demonstrator, with a son in tow and no husband. Her son is constantly questioning when his daddy will be coming home and her mother (Felicity Montagu) is being less than helpful, her opinion being that her daughter should not have parted ways with her husband simply because he cheated on her!
Nita (Angela Griffin) and her ex-con husband (Don Gilet) are at odds about the fifth baby they are expecting, with Nita against going ahead with the pregnancy.
My favourite couple, perhaps ironically, given the ending of the episode, are Pauline (Penelope Wilton) and Brian (Peter Wight). They’re a prime example of how the Ann Summers range worked/works favourably for older couples, and it’s so refreshing to see Penelope Wilton playing a totally different character. She is so renowned for playing whiners and holier than thou characters, Pauline is quite a new direction for her and she’s playing it brilliantly. Peter Wight compliments her well and they’re believable as a couple, let’s hope next week’s episode doesn’t destroy that element of the programme for me!
Meanwhile, Dawn (Sharon Rooney) has taken up residence Chez Pauline/Brian and seems to be making herself at home with Russell (Will Merrick), a little bit too at home, it seems!
What the scripts for this much needed ITV drama are adept at doing, are taking the viewer through a gripping scene, edge of the seat stuff, and then lightening the mood in one foul swoop. Another cliff hanger to finish on, to, I can’t wait for next week, and I’m already contemplating another series!
It’s about time ITV was shaken up a bit, and what a dream of a television show we have been given to do just that! Brief Encounters, written by Fay Rusling and Oriane Messina is set around a group of women who are being enticed into the world of Ann Summers! So, the likes of Penelope Wilton and Elsie Kelly (Noreen from ITV’s Benidorm) basically find themselves surrounded by marital aids!
It’s set I the early 80s and the first episode revolved around Steph, Nita and Pauline, played by Sophie Rundle, Angela Griffin and Penelope Wilton respectively. Steph feels as though she is contributing nothing to her household, or life, in fact, while her husband Terry (Karl Davies) is jobless and not paying her any attention.
Nita becomes friendly with Steph after they start chatting in the playground, and the ballsy mum of four convinces Steph to go and see what the Ann Summers demonstrator roles, entail. Steph’s current job is as a cleaner for Pauline, she’s stagnating while her career-focused husband is working all hours.
So the scene is set for drama, friendship and hilarious consequences. Also along for the ride are Sharon Rooney who plays Dawn, a young hairdresser who is engaged to Russell, played by Will Merrick.
It’s a terrific first episode from the point of view of introducing characters and their relationships, setting up potential storylines for future episodes and the chemistry between the cast is perfect. As an ensemble, they make a formidable team, already. The main female roles seem to be forming a bond not dissimilar to that seen in Calendar Girls, Fat Friends and In The Club – all of which are successful, so this looks promising.
When Pauline caved in and allowed Steph to hold her first party at her house, it was everything I hoped it would be. The fact that the majority of the party were embracing the raciness, was a sheer delight in itself. I don’t think I’ll forget the look on Pauline’s Mother-In-Law’s face for a long time to come, Elsie Kelly is playing her as stupendously well as she plays Noreen in Benidorm.
I’m excited for next week’s instalment and what a rollercoaster of a cliff-hanger we were left with. Brilliant!