There is a moment in the bathos-rich “Barbara Taylor Bradford’s A Secret Affair” that serves to define the ironic times in which we live. The scene features pampered princess Vanessa Stewart (played by Janine Turner) and dashing, pushy TV reporter Bill Fitzgerald (Irish actor Paudge Behan).
The two lovers are about to hop into bed for the first time — and we do mean hop. Shot through a soft filter, locked on super slo-mo, undergarments are strewn tantalizingly amid the mating frenzy. Bill is finally caught flying more or less stark naked in midair as he leaps playfully onto the guffawing Vanessa.
This clothing-optional interlude will more than likely attract no protests or attention whatsoever. Yet on the very same network (CBS) earlier this month, critical reaction was swift and severe when a character on “Chicago Hope” uttered the commonplace phrase “shit happens.” Interesting, huh? And unlike “Hope,” “A Secret Affair” doesn’t even carry the mitigating factor of being quality-driven. It is melodramatic schmaltz to the core, complete with such seductive lines as, “I’d love to see a glass factory. I’ve always been interested in blowing glass.”
Isn’t that also what Monica Lewinsky said to…oh, never mind.
Based, naturally, on the 1996 novel of the same name by Barbara Taylor Bradford (and adapted for the small screen by Carole Real), “A Secret Affair” stars “Northern Exposure” alum Turner in a kind of “European Exposure” (it was shot on location in Venice and Dublin). The most challenging aspect of the role for Turner came in handling a wig sporting hair down to her backside — this, in the wake of her close-cropped look on the CBS series.
Unfortunately for Turner’s alter ego Vanessa, all of her good hair days are wasted on a tall, handsome, Ivy League-educated and deathly-dull fella named Stephen Rocken (Robert Mailhouse). He is the chief financial officer in Vanessa’s parents’ booming home-goods business. Vanessa is an exec in the Philadelphia firm, too, and is bored witless. She longs to roll her hands and other body parts over modeling clay, making busts and other artsy-fartsy artifacts.
Then on a business trip to Venice, Vanessa is minding her own beeswax, riding a boat on some shimmering Italian lake when she is hit on by Bill (Behan). We know Bill means business because he carries his coat over one shoulder in that “I’m a good catch” sorta way. The Irish TV personality, a widower who puts his butt in harm’s way routinely, makes such a charming nuisance of himself that Vanessa has to give in and sleep with him. It’s either that or have him arrested.
Pretty soon, the love sparks start to fire. Vanessa plots her escape from Boring Boy and her life of silver-spoon hell in Philly. Bill takes her to visit his mom (nice work from Fionnula Flanagan) and daughter (Sarah Bolger).
But then the usual fate intercedes: kidnap, torture, bad poker games.
It’s all over but the tears. There will be lots and lots of those clear through the conclusion of “A Secret Affair,” directed with an earnest hand by helmer Bobby Roth from Real’s divertingly sappy teleplay. Plenty of lush shots of that Dublin countryside, however. For Turner, it all proves to be particularly hair-raising. Tech credits are all sharp.