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‘Master’-ful moments

Exec producer Eaton recalls unforgettable pieces of 'Masterpiece'

With 40 years of footage to choose from, the task wasn’t easy, but Rebecca Eaton, “Masterpiece” executive producer since 1985, shares some of her favorite memories.

Alistair Cooke’s introductions to “Upstairs, Downstairs” (1971-75)
“I remember falling in love as he did his introductions because they were very long back then — like four minutes,” Eaton says. Cooke’s lengthy intros wouldn’t fly in today’s fast-paced Internet world, but as the first host of “Masterpiece,” he set the bar.

Interrogation scene in “The Jewel in the Crown” (1984)
Capt. Ronald Merrick (Tim Pigott-Smith) interrogates and beats Hari Kumar (Art Malik) in a scene that Eaton calls “shocking and hard to watch, but really well done.” The series won five BAFTAs, an Emmy and a Golden Globe.

The hillside ride to the end in “The Jewel in the Crown” (1984)
Barbie Batchelor (Peggy Ashcroft) shoots down a hill in a cart in the rain, barreling towards certain death. “It’s terrifying because you know she won’t survive,” Eaton says. “Yet she’s beaming and throwing her head back in the rain, so it conveys madness and fearfulness at the same time. She’s kind of off her rocker.”

Maggie Smith in “Talking Heads” (1988)
Long before she was a wizard professor, the great Dame Smith left her mark on the series. As a vicar’s wife with a drinking problem, Smith “gave a monologue that is one of the best pieces of acting I’ve ever seen,” Eaton says.

Helen Mirren’s hangover in “Prime Suspect” (1991)
Mirren plays Jane Tennison, who opens the series’ last episode by waking up the morning after an almighty bender. “It’s the mother of all hangovers,” Eaton says. “She (Mirren) is brilliant — you get a splitting headache just watching her.”

The 20th-century kiss in Jane Austen’s “Persuasion” (1995)
At the end, Captain Wentworth (Ciaran Hinds) kisses Anne (Amanda Root) — a moment that wasn’t in Austen’s book and one that Eaton had to fight for. “In the book, they never would have kissed publicly,” Eaton says. “But I felt for a ’90s American audience, they couldn’t sit through two hours of missed opportunities in love and see them just touch hands.”

The “Masterpiece” history-maker in “Reckless’ (1997)
In a scene that “The Notebook” might have copied later, Richard (Michael Kitchen) and Anna (Francesca Annis) kiss in the pouring rain. An extreme closeup, Eaton says, makes it “the sexiest kiss we’ve ever done.” But, Eaton also notes that the series is “a romantic comedy of the first order — tender moments and very funny.”

Gillian Anderson’s tears in “Bleak House” (2005)
Lady Dedlock (Anderson) must reveal to her daughter, that she is, in fact her mother in this scene that exemplifies not just the quality of acting in “Masterpiece,” but of cinema, period. “It’s that long dusk that England has in spring,” Eaton says. “The light is silvery and Gillian’s hair and the costume are gray, and tears are just beautifully falling down her face.”

More from Masterpiece at 40:
‘Masterpiece’ fresh at 40 | Co-creator excited to return ‘Upstairs’ | ‘Masterpiece’ producer answers the call | ‘Master’-ful moments

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