Picks and Pans Review: Masterpiece Theatre: a Very British Coup

updated 01/16/1989 at 01:00 AM EST

originally published 01/16/1989 01:00AM

PBS (Sun.-Mon., Jan. 15-16, 9 p.m. ET)

A

Bravo. Bravo. Bravo. At the start of this three-hour mini, Alistair Cooke admits—or perhaps boasts—that this is "a radical departure" and "a break with the 18-year-old Masterpiece Theatre tradition." That is cause for rejoicing. For here we do not see the usual PBS/BBC Britain of twitty, flitty, sensitive souls who bruise like pears. No, we see the harsh world of the near future, a world that can resemble America as much as it resembles England. An election is on, and Ray (A Perfect Spy) McAnally as an honest, charming, candid and liberal—very liberal—candidate for Prime Minister tells a fable of Thatcherite England: "It came to pass that the oil money ran out and Old Mother Hubbard went to the cupboard and there was nothing left to privatize. And the merchants and the moneylenders in yuppieland no longer collected £2 million for passing go because most of them were in jail." McAnally wins and begins to fulfill his election promises to resurrect social programs and to dismantle British and American nuclear weapons on live TV. The old boys among Britain's spies and newspaper barons and in America's CIA and White House try to bring down his government by no end of devious means. McAnally fights back with no stronger weapon than honesty. So A Very British Coup becomes a show that asks: In a world where no one plays by the rules, can anyone? In a corrupt place, can a good man take charge? Whether or not you choose to believe the show's answer, you are bound to have a ball watching McAnally try. A Very British Coup is a rousing, thrilling, thought-popping, wonderful show. McAnally's performance sparkles. The supporting cast of British actors is super. The direction (by Mick Jackson), writing and editing are all crackling fresh. So let us hope that this is the beginning of a bracing new tradition for Masterpiece Theatre.

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