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-playwright 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 was a loving, widowed father , Thomas spent his time writing, smoking, tossing out clever remarks to his teachers and 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 in his life. But why he did what he did remains vague; his socialism is self-explanatory, but his escapes into humor move heavily for American watchers.
Gavin Ashcroft gives a solid perf as Gwyn at 13, and Brendan O’Hea successfully follows him while Hopkins narrates. Program is satisfactory, but lacks 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.