Affairs of the Heart: Series One (review)

They don’t make TV series like this one anymore. No, literally, they don’t. Affairs of the Heart, the first series of which has just been released on DVD, is an anthology, not just a different story every week but different characters, too. True, these seven one-hour episodes — produced for British TV in 1974, they aired on American TV in the early 1980s — are connected via their source material, the fiction of Henry James, but it’s hard to imagine anything like this being produced today. I’m not sure, either, now that we’re used to big, sprawling epic adaptations of novels, whether a one-hour distillation of an entire novel would be welcomed by viewers. Indeed, these are a bit of a mixed bag: some work better than others. Episode One, “Catherine,” is Washington Square boiled down to its essence, and it’s one of the best of the seven on offer, with crackerjack performances by Lynn Farleigh as a mousy spinster confronted by Ian Ogilvy’s handsome fortune hunter, and how she dispenses with him. Similarly, Episode Four, “Grace,” based on the short story “Covering End,” is absolutely winning thanks to the electric chemistry of Jeremy Brett — later the best Sherlock Holmes ever — and The Avengers’ Diana Rigg: He’s a radical politician, she’s a radically charming — and rich — young widow who square off. Other episodes are based on The Wings of the Dove, The Aspern Papers, and other James fiction, but they never quite spark to life.

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