Looking for a charming Brticom for your summer viewing schedule? Look no further than As Time Goes By (spoilers ahead if you’ve yet to watch).
In brief, this is the story of Lionel and Jean, separated by a letter from the young soldier to the young nurse that failed to reach its intended destination. Now, 38 years later, the lovers reconnect by chance (Lionel is writing a book about his life in Kenya titled My Life in Kenya, and he selects Jean’s secretarial agency to assist him as he readies the book for print). In all honesty, the first few episodes are a bit slow as the couple tries to recapture the past with varying degrees of success. But once you reach the first series’ finale, “The Picnic,” you’ll be hard-pressed to find a more touching moment than Jean grateful for Lionel’s reappearance in her life and their kiss by the lake.
Once you hit series two, As Time Goes By hits its stride. In its own way, this show proves that time moves in ways other than forward. Despite their increased age, Jean and Lionel deal with all the complications of a youthful romance (uncomfortable meetings with family members, deciding where they should live together, and, finally, planning and having a perfect wedding). They even get to experience the joys of children via Jean’s daughter, Judith, Jean’s secretary, Sandy, and Lionel’s publisher, Alistair. These “young people” experience their own trials and tribulations (Sandy’s unlucky in love, Alistair and Judith work their way through an on-again-off-again relationship, etc.), and Jean and Lionel are present to encourage and disapprove every step of the way. Looking for zanier hijinks? They are in abundance once Lionel’s eccentric father, Rocky, and the entire “country set” hit the scene (Rocky’s housekeeper, Mrs. Bale, and his second wife, Madge, are the highlights of these episodes). And don’t think Jean’s past is left untouched. Her sister-in-law, Penny, and Penny’s often clueless husband, Stephen, get their share of screen time (but I’ll confess that I’m not the biggest fan of the Penny/Stephen-centric episodes).
Getting back to the Fab Five at the heart of the show, you’ll never find a better ensemble. This is Judi Dench as Jean at her most delightful, tough as nails yet vulnerable all at once. She’s ably matched by Geoffrey Palmer’s dry Lionel who gets some of the best lines via the sheer skill of his delivery. Moira Brooker and Jenny Funnell work wonders with Judith and Sandy, respectively, breathing unique life into what on the page could strike many as too similar characters. And Philip Bretherton’s Alistair is ego masking a little boy looking for a home. Lucky for him that he finds it.
I highly suggest watching the entire show from start to finish so as to better appreciated the developing interrelationships between the characters, but in my opinion, here are some of the high points:
As previously stated, this is where the show really takes off. Alistair is trying to woo Jean, Judith thinks she’s in love with Lionel, but one afternoon outing is all it takes to set the couples on the right paths, bumps along the way and all.
“The Book Signing”
My Life in Kenya debuts and, despite Alistair’s best efforts, flops. But this episode also sows the seeds for Lionel’s next writing assignment, a mini-series about his and Jean’s love story. And he surprises Jean with tickets to Paris. Swoon!
“Rocky’s Wedding Day”
Despite a plot point that doesn’t pay off as the show progresses, the wedding of Lionel’s father gives his son the chance to deliver a touching best man’s speech. And even though he’s inconsequential in the grand scheme of things, Sandy’s estranged boyfriend delivers one hell of a romantic gesture as the wedding guests return home. And Lionel asks Jean to move in with him.
Jean’s branch office needs a manager. Judith assumes she’s next in line, but Jean (and Alistair) have other ideas involving Sandy. In the end, this is arguably one of the best glimpses into what makes Sandy Sandy. She knows she’s capable, but she’s loyal and happy where she is.
“Wedding Day Nerves”
And they are pronounced man and wife! Jean’s hiccups and AWOL in-laws aside, the nuptials occur. Only wish that Kong could have become more of a regular character!
Separated from Judith, Alistair suddenly announces his plans to marry the impossible-to-be-believed Mercury. This might be the first time that Judith realizes what she’s missing by pushing Alistair away, but, true to form, Lionel is the only one who actually understands what Alistair is trying to accomplish.
“A Surprise for Jean”
Lionel’s efforts at romance, courtesy a push from the “young people,” results in a night of faked drunkenness, a sneaky attempt to pack a suitcase, and, finally, the revelation of the contents of the lost letter. When Lionel wrote of miracles, who knew he was referring to the lovers’ second chance.
Lionel can’t hear; Jean can’t see. And it sets the stage or a great scene with the ladies and their “unnaturally soft voices” and Jean desperately trying to decipher playing cards as Lionel waves them around in anger. “Why do Rugby Club dances get boisterous?”
Jean’s desire to join the modern world leads to all sorts of confusion with modems and blown fuses. But it’s Alistair, broke (or rather his version of broke), who brings the family together and sets in motion the next chapter of Judith and Alistair’s romance. Seems the “nice bloke” just might be enough for Judith.
The wedding of Judith and Alistair is still an episode away, but all that leads up to it (Alistair’s panic attacks, the mannequins, and attempts to choose the music) almost makes you think that the big day won’t come to pass. Almost.
And the Reunion Special is pretty monster as well! Interested? Do yourself a favor and check out this gem. You won’t be sorry that you bet on a show all about second chances.