Reckless - ITV (UK), Oct. 10/98
Hearts are beating, ready for the sequel to Reckless. Why is it the stuff of fantasy, asks MAGGIE BROWN, and not just for women of a certain age?
Dangerous liaison: Francesca Annis and Robson Green
Addicted to love 'Isn't it wonderful, Reckless is back," said a fortysomething divorced friend of mine. "I'd forgotten how steamy it was." And we shared a private smile.
ITV has just repeated the series, a surprise hit with 12m viewers last year, starring the heart-throb Robson Green and glamorous Francesca Annis - recently voted "sexiest woman on television" by Radio Times readers - locked in a wild, passionate love triangle across an ominously large age gap. Younger man hopelessly in love with older married beauty, a couple who behave so badly, they have it off in a car park under the stars while jealous husband throws tantrums. It's enough to send teenagers running in disgust from the room and grouchy husbands out to the pub.
The TV critics didn't take much notice at the time and haven't troubled themselves with a repeat, naturally. That's all right. It's just left mil-lions of the rest of us contentedly lapping up one of the most sizzlingly successful dramas of the 1990s. Even better, the four- part original, which ends on Saturday, was a warm-up for the sequel - Reckless, the Movie - which will be shown on October 10. A delicious week of speculation lies ahead. Can such mad love survive and lead to happiness?
If the Reckless phenomenon has bypassed you, here's a catch-up. The ubiquitous Robson Green plays one of the nicest screen versions of his Geordie self; he's Dr Owen Springer, a rising youngish surgeon, who returns to Manchester from London to live with his ailing dad, played by that professional screen villain David Bradley. They live in a Victorian terraced house; pub on corner, betting shop next door. There's lots of working-class life, but Reckless moves effortlessly across the class divisions.
Springer falls head over heels for Anna Fairley (Annis), the sophisticated, cool, careerist wife of his nasty consultant boss, Richard Crane (Michael Kitchen). His attentions, initially spurned, are returned when Fairley discovers (thanks to some undercover work by Springer) that her husband is having a fling with a bitchy hospital manager, played brilliantly by Daniela Nardini.
The appeal of Reckless, besides a topnotch cast, is that it's based on an age-old truism, that faint heart never won fair lady. If you want something, you have to go for it. But, and here's the key: the chasing usually involves older men in pursuit of somewhat younger women, or at least their contemporaries. What's keeping millions of us pinned to our sofas is that a mature lady is being fought for here. Also, Robson/Springer is that rarely sighted creature, whether on television or in real life, a real man, keen on straightforward one-to-one hetero- sexual sex. Okay, he's a bit short to be genuine heart- throb material, but we do see lots of his hairy chest. He plays football in his Newcastle United strip, can't cook anything more ambitious than Marmite toasties and bacon sandwiches - though he aspires - and sends gorgeous flowers to the woman he loves. He's not short of money, but he never seems calculating. Best of all - and this is the charm of the series - in a world of tricksy screwed-up men, you never doubt that this is truly love. He doesn't play hard to get, or indulge in any games. He never wavers in his goal: to be with her. He blurts out declarations of love, without reserve.
Paul Abbott, the writer, who learnt his craft on Coronation Street, deliberately constructed it this way. Springer is allowed to break all the rules in pursuit of the woman of his dreams. He courteously never inquires about Anna's real age. He doesn't talk about the difficulties of having children with a menopausal woman. He shrugs off the well-meaning warnings about Oedipus complexes from younger colleagues.
So when Fairley's marriage collapses, and Crane and Springer have a deeply funny and undignified punch-up over her, it is the bereft Springer who moves heaven and earth to pursue her to a Lake District hideaway when she tries to escape the pressure, wheedling the phone number from her secretary.
The greater truth, of course, is that everyone loves a lover, especially one who is kind to old ladies (Springer is especially gracious to Anna's mother, who is suffering from Alzheimer's disease). We're presented with a portrait of an educated rough diamond with the kindest of hearts, a persistence that never gets stale . . . all combined with those devastating blue eyes.
All a fantasy staged for sad middle-aged women like me? Well, the interesting thing is that Abbott wrote this piece from experience. As a young aspiring writer fresh from university, he married an older, more educated woman (though they subsequently divorced). And it's a fact that Annis herself is engaged in a well-publicised relationship with that much younger film-star hunk Ralph Fiennes. This all stokes up the watchability factor.
What I've also really clocked this time around is the genius of the wardrobe mistress. Anna Fairley is decked out in a range of subtle, glamorous everyday clothes. The series is an object lesson in how to look great without invoking the words mutton and lamb.
You could start a Reckless line at Marks & Spencer: millions of us would turn up for soft turtlenecks (no sagging necks), flattering autumnal-coloured skirts and versions of her soft leather coat with fur collar.
Cue Reckless, The Movie, which starts one year on and opens in the trendy warehouse flat they've bought together. Can such a passionate pair live happily ever after? Does everything, after all, have to extract a price? Till Saturday the 10th . . .
e m a i l
© ivanovbabe 1998 Page Designer: Lynn