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British Comedies With Judi Dench

Updated on July 30, 2021
Patty Inglish, MS profile image

Patty has successfully reviewed thousands of books, films, products, and vacation/retirement cities around the world.

Romantic Comedy and Real Romance

The talented Dame Judith Dench of England has been the star of at least two BBC television series about romance - A Fine Romance and As Time Goes By - both titled with the names of popular songs from the 1930s.

A Fine Romance showed on English TV for four seasons and a total of 26 episodes. Each season is what Americans would say is a miniseries, although U.S. summer replacement series provide a fewer number of weekly shows now as well.

Romantic Comedy: The Quadroon Chef - Alexander Dumas concocting his own bouillabaisse of romance.
Romantic Comedy: The Quadroon Chef - Alexander Dumas concocting his own bouillabaisse of romance.

Both series were well received and today, play constantly in reruns on Public Television networks in some parts of America. Like the popular British comedy series Are You Being Served, fans of the two romantic comedies watch the same episodes time and again and still enjoy them.

One particularly attractive feature of A Fine Romance is that Ms. Dench was able to star oppostie her real-life husband, Michael Williams. From their expressions in the show, they mush have had a riotous time in playing those parts. Sadly, Mr. Williams died from cancer in 2001, ending that particularly fine romance of 30 full years.

Cast of Characters

Laura Dalton (Judi Dench) - A woman that is a 40-something translator is socially awkward. Romance passes her by. Her sister and brother-in-law try to fix her up with men to no avail. She hides in closets.

Helen (Susan Penhaligon) - Laura's well-meaning sister.

Phil (Richard Warwick) - Helen's husband.

Mike Selway (Michael Williams) - A hardworking but shy landscape gardener that owns his own rather rundown business with an ancient male aissitant. The place is in such upheaval, one wonders how it stays afloat. For a time, Laura helps Mike organize the paperwork and businesses recruiting with pretty good results.

In the first episode of the series, year one, Helen and Phil throw a party at which they push together Laura and Mike for what they feel will be a sure romance. Each of these targets escape the party to get away from the other, but go to the same hiding spot, making for a comic ending. The four years of the series highlights further comedic situations, splits and reconcilations, and the couple's squabbles as they try, of and on, to grow a romance.

A Fine Romance: First Meeting, 1981

For anyone that has been socially awkward, especially with potential romantic partners, the series A Fine Romance might be therapy as well as great fun, no matter what one's age and circumstance in life.

Laughter can surely be the beginning of a romance, and if a couple watches these series together, who knows what might be inspired?

Finale of Season Four: "Happily Ever After"

As Time Goes By

Wondering What Happened After 38 Years

As Time Goes By encompasses the current lives in the 1990s - 2000s of two people that met and loved briefly in England at the start of the Korean War. She was a nurse and he was a young lieutenant in the armed services. Soon after he left for his service in Korea, they wrote letters that neither received and each always wondered what had happened.

Lionel in Africa, Jean in England

The army officer, Lionel Hardcastle, went to Africa after the Korean War to grow coffee.

In Kenya, he had a lukewarm marriage to "the only girl in the area." Meanwhile, Jean Pergetter married and had a child who, grown up, works with Jean in her secretarial staffing agency.

Thirty-eight years later, who appears at the agency looking for clerical help in preparing his manuscript for his memoir My Life in Kenya? Yes, Lionel.

Tempers flare and an undercurrent of hurt and anger seethe below the surface in both the young nurse and lieutenant, in their older forms.

The events and disasters of the next 13-odd series years and a reunion film are hilarious as well as heartwarming. It is little wonder that in the United States, fans watch this series daily and when it comes to the end, fans begin again with the first episode to do it all over. It certainly provides some escape and reminder of pleasanter times during a long era of crises in America.

Cast of As Time Goes By

Many of the actors in comedies on British TV have been successful in the British Shakespeare Company before or afterward, proving that comedy is no easy task when done well.

  • Jean Pargetter Hardcastle (Dame Judith Dench) - The nurse and the lieutenant finally get married after several episodes, after Lionel's aged but rock-and-rollin' father remarries, to his twilight years' sweetheart Madge.
  • Lionel Hardcastle (Sir Geoffrey Palmer) - Dry humor at its best.
  • Judith Hanson Deacon (Moira Booker) - Judy, Jean's daughter.
  • Alistair Deacon (Philip Bretherton) - This is a particularly hilarious character a book publisher whose dad is a friend of Lionel's Dad. Lionel would often prefer to stuff him in a dust bin.
  • Sandy (Jenny Funnell) - Employed at the staffing agency and Judy's friend.
  • Richard 'Rocky' Hardcastle (Frank Middlemass) - "Rock on!"
  • Madge Hardcastle (Joan Sims)
  • Penny Johnson (Moyra Fraser) - "Penn", Jean's former sister-in-law, rather controlling.
  • Stephen Johnson (Paul Chapman) - Penny's husband, a rather bumbling dentist.
  • Mrs. Bale (Janet Henrey) - One of the best characters in the series, the wry Mrs. Bale is the precise, tall, black-clad housekeeper at Rocky's estate in the country. ("Lunch will be served at 2:24 PM").

Dench and Palmer do a first rate job of portraying two people whose hearts were broken in the Korean War as they meet unexpectedly in the 1990s. Their first chance meeting in the 1990s is truly bristling. The phenomenon overall is one of amazing acting as the gradually softening characters gather comedic events to themselves like a foolish-magnet.

Geoffrey Palmer, Moira Brooker and Philip Bretherton

The World Will Always Welcome Lovers...

Although As Time Goes By was used as the theme song for this romantic comedy, the lyrics are sentimental and truly romantic, as is the relationship between Jean and Lionel.

This song is included in the Humphrey Bogart, Ingrid Bergman film Casablanca.

Traditions of Classic Romantic Comedy

Many television shows and films have been built around romantic comedy, although the neighter the romance nor the comedy shown through in all of them. Some of these attempts are simply gauche or crude, or thrown together slapdash without substance in order to get a film out.

Some others films will likely remain classics for their romance and emotional value as well as good story lines, including: The Lake House, Casablanca, Leap Year (2010), Sabrina - the original and the remake with Harrison Ford, Sleepless in Seattle, It Happened One Night, The Proposal, and others.

As Time Goes By: Casablanca

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2010 Patty Inglish MS


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