Host: Russell Baker.
Anthony Hopkins’ name should ensure viewers’ attendance for the opening of the 23rd “Masterpiece Theatre” season, but Alan Plater’s fragmented adaptation of Gwyn Thomas’ recollections is a letdown. Welsh novelist-play-wright Thomas enjoyed the aphorism, the well-placed adjective, the out-of-joint thought; as dramatic fodder, he’s no Mr. Chips.
Born in Wales, son of a sometimes coal miner who made little money but was a loving, widowed father, Thomas spent his time writing, smoking, tossing out clever remarks to his teachers, advocating radical philosophies, but was generally passive in his life’s approach.
The episodic vidpic directed to leisurely effect by Tristram Powell looks for depths in Thomas’ humor, sampling a talking heads TV show called “The Brains Trust,” and intros characters through Thomas’ life from undergrad until he gave up teaching at 50 to write. But why he did what he did remains vague; his socialism is self-explanatory, but his escapes into humor move heavily for American watchers.
Married to Lyn Thomas (Sue Roderick), Gwyn steadfastly refuses to type, so Lyn does the dirty work, just as a schoolchum did earlier in his life. There’s a nice touch when he brushes the paths of villagers Mr. and Mrs. Metcalf (Sion Probert, Victoria Plucknett): tobacconist Metcalf yearns to go to America, while his wife drinks and plays loose around town even as she sings Italian arias (sung by Rhiam Owen).
Gavin Ashcroft gives a solid perf as Gwyn at 13, and Brendan O’Hea successfully succeeds him while Hopkins narrates. Gwyn the boy walking the hills with his loving dad is pleasant, and Alan David and Ann Beach, who invite Gwyn to tea before he goes off on scholarships to Oxford, are agreeably cast.
Program is satisfactory, but it doesn’t have the drive or dramatic dimensions of “Masterpiece Theatres” of past seasons. Hopkins, shrewdly delineating the character but hemmed in by the script, doesn’t make him that interesting.
Russell Baker, new host to the series, provides authority and an agreeable mien. He should serve the cause well.