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Sunday, May 25, 2008

THE MILLIONAIRESS (1972)

A late comedy from G. B. Shaw about . . . wait for it . . . Economics: or How Britain’s Wealthiest Heiress Dumped Her Useless Philandering Husband, Her Useless Ne’er-do-well Escort and Found Happiness With an Egyptian Doctor to the Poor. Shaw wrote this one to be acted in UPPERCASE and that’s just how the cast plays in this BBC Play of the Month production. You have to hang in there during the opening scene as Shaw carefully lays out the relationships & themes, but this gives us time to adjust to the larger-than-life theatrical style the stellar cast use. It’s no surprise to find Maggie Smith a mannered marvel, but note how subtly she trims her style as the play deepens in feeling & philosophy for a more naturalistic mode without losing Shavian attitude or altitude. (She must prove herself to the good doctor by living for six months on just her wits & labor.) By Act II, Smith’s become a warm beauty after her off-putting entrance. Only Wendy Hiller has equaled her at turning Shaw’s female paradoxes into people. The play remains minor Shaw, but it grows on you. Nice shiny transfer from the original PAL video system, too.

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