Judge Kristin Munson stoops for no man, but she'll slouch a bit if she really likes you.
"An impudent fellow may counterfeit modesty; but I'll be hanged if a modest man can ever counterfeit impudence."
Zounds! Oliver Goldsmith's classic play is adapted for TV without being re-imagined, modernized, or performed by a cast of teenagers or talking animals. If only the directorial choices weren't equally stuck in the past.
Facts of the Case
Charles Marlow is shy and dull around proper ladies but a Casanova among the peasant girls, so when the brother of his potential bride tricks him into believing the family home is really an inn, mistaking his intended for a barmaid is the best thing that could happen to him. But can love win out for the snobby Londoner after he's treated her father like hired help and his friend tries to run off with a comely cousin and the family jewels?
If not for the film stock, I'd swear She Stoops to Conquer was from the early '80s.
The adaptation has all the hallmarks of older BBC productions: out of sync or out of range audio in outdoor scenes, stilted voiceovers, and cameras that can't seem to keep up if the actors are moving and speaking. Despite being filmed in and around a real English manor house, everything comes across as stiff and stagy.
The cardinal rule when it comes to a comedy of mistaken identities is to keep the pacing quick, but this adaptation is obviously a single movie that's been chopped into five bits. The episodes aren't divided by scenes or acts but sliced into equal parts, so the credits roll whether the characters have finished their conversation or not. That leaves plenty of time to notice the holes in the fluffy story, like why an upper class lady like Kate should be so smitten with a man who's trying to bed the servants only hours after meeting his fiancée.
She Stoops to Conquer was recorded in 16 days and it almost seems like it was filmed chronologically. The first two episodes have the most technical problems and the early performances come off like bad Shakespeare, with actors puppeting words without getting across the meaning. To keep the audience entertained through the rocky setup, there's some gags involving manure and horse farts. Because of the clunky breaks the miniseries doesn't get rolling until the halfway point. When it finally does everything comes together. The actors click into their roles, the play picks up speed, and, once those things gel, it's easy to overlook the awkward directorial choices and enjoy the play.
Most of the cast are stage veterans or relative unknowns and the huge gaps in experience are another strike against the production. Miles Jupp and Mark Dexter are responsible for most of the comic lifting as the prankish squire and his confused victim, and they manage to pull it off in the end, but it takes them time to warm up. Ian Redford is the only actor who has the comedy, and his character, nailed from the first scene. To make up for the underwritten female roles, the actresses tend to be totally over the top or achingly fake and Holly Gilbert plays Constance in a way that makes high school thespians look like John Gielgud.
As a bonus, Acorn has included "A Gooseberry Fool," a warts-and-all look at Oliver Goldsmith that combines biography with critical analysis. Goldsmith was an egotistical, charming, and oddly charitable person which makes him a more interesting author than most, but the special is bogged down with clips from She Stoops to Conquer that barely support the point the host is making. The bio's writer also hosts, sings, plays Goldsmith in reenactments, and has a part in the movie, which is unintentionally funny considering the way he dismisses Goldsmith's own multitasking.
The film and audio quality yo-yos depending on when and where scenes were filmed, so the DVD quality is at the total mercy of the production, an excuse that can't explain the bulky cardboard sleeve and two full size cases that's total packaging overkill. The 145 minutes would easily have fit on one disc, even with the 50-minute documentary, and all the extra plastic and paper does is bump it up to the ridiculous price point of $40.
She Stoops eventually conquers its shortcomings, but can you hang on 80 minutes to get there?
Guilty of taking TV back to 1983.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Acorn Media
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