Stars: Angela Haines, Brian DeMarco, Michael Hanelin and Tenley Dene
Wodehouse's story revolves around Pepper, a blusterer in the vein of Nigel Bruce's Dr Watson, whose girl, Ann Selby, describes him to his face as 'entirely vapid and brainless' and suffering from 'the handicap of large private means.' Reggie and Ann are now serious, but she's having second thoughts about marriage for precisely the reasons she mentions above. 'You're one of the idle rich, and your brain, if you ever had one, has atrophied,' she tells him and he determines to impress her by doing something notably clever to prove otherwise. 'Suppose I pull off some stunt which only a deuced brainy chappie could get away with?' he asks her. 'Would you marry me then?' She answers in the positive only because she doesn't believe he could do such a thing, but a discussion about a mutual friend, Harold Bodkin, inspires him. Harold lost his first wife, Amelia, five years earlier and has married again, to Hilda. He loves both wives, but is alienating the latter by idolising the former. Pepper decides to simultaneously fix the problem and win Ann's hand.
Of this story, Mills retains only two things. His adaptation revolves around two couples, albeit neither Ann and Reggie nor Harold and Hilda, and one of them isn't yet married and may just never be. That's it. His version follows an awkward couple called Alfred and Judy, who are engaged and planning a honeymoon in Paris but don't seem to have much of a clue about the whole marriage thing. Beyond gender, Alfred's only similarity to Reggie is his awkwardness and Judy may not have anything at all in common with Ann; she's more like a female version of Alfred. Deciding that they should learn more about what they have in store for them as man and wife, they visit another couple who have been married for over a decade. I'm not sure if they expect to gain insight or that Gary and Alexandra might take them under their wing, but the evening to which we're made privy is surely far from what they might have imagined. The last scene is a strange but satisfying one, which might just show what Mills took away from The Test Case.
While it's fair to say that anyone watching this because it was written by P G Wodehouse is going to feel rather misled if not utterly outraged, I enjoyed the new story Mills put together. In fact I can laugh at the idea of dialogue like, 'All any man really wants is a home cooked meal and a place to put his wiener' in a Wodehouse adaptation. Trying to imagine the dry wit of Fry and Laurie in a conversation like the one that Alexandra leads Judy into in the appliance room is a riot all on its own. Certainly I want to see Hanelin in more comedy; all I can remember prior to this is Star Babies, but he's hardly the focus of attention there, more of an in joke for people who are used to seeing him paired off with Colleen Hartnett. I appreciated a longer running time, twenty minutes or so, in a series where even the longest stories Mills adapted got a lot less than that. It allowed the actors to play things slower, build in awkward silences and react with the thoughtfulness that the characters deserved.
I also appreciated some of the technical decisions behind the film. While I do wonder why Angela Haines, tasked with playing a stunningly naive young lady, would be placed in a dress that shows off her tattoos, not to mention emphasises her bust, she did otherwise look the part, as did the other actors. When they meet for the first time, 'the newlyweds' are in the dark while their evening's hosts are in the light, a clear analogy for their respective experience levels. The camera's focus is also consistently well chosen, some scenes focused on the characters rather than what they're looking at (of course, that also helps budget concerns) and others focused on reactions rather than actions. The dinner scene in particular highlights both connection and disconnection and, in tandem with the editing, it's superb. As Gary moans in delight at his wife's salad, we don't watch him; we watch in turn Alexandra enjoying the tease and their lost and embarrassed guests. It's also the film in microcosm; it's those who get it who will enjoy it most.