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A Passionate Woman (review)

Billie Piper and Theo James in A Passionate Woman

Review by Lizzie Guilfoyle

IndieLondon Rating: 3 out of 5

KAY Mellor (Band of Gold, Fat Friends) was inspired to write A Passionate Woman by a confession her mother once made to her, so BBC TV’s two-part drama which played out over two consecutive Sunday evenings, was actually based on fact. Why then did I find it so unconvincing?

Set in 1950s Leeds, Part 1 finds the young Betty (Billie Piper) trapped with her baby son in a seemingly loveless marriage. To brighten the tedium of everyday life, she and her sister Margaret (Rachel Leskovac) go dancing and it’s there that Betty meets the young and dashing Alex Crazenovski, aka Craze (Theo James), who just happens to be living in the same block of flats as Betty and her husband Donald (Joe Armstrong).

Craze is also married but a besotted Betty nevertheless embarks on an affair with the young man who is anything but what he seems. Inevitably, it all ends in tears and Craze’s untimely death at the hands of his jealous wife.

Thirty years later, Betty and Donald’s son Mark (Andrew Lee Potts) is about to marry but the unexpected revelation that Mark is moving to Australia with his new wife, brings the past to life and plunges Betty into dark despair.

Piper, naive, guilt-ridden and passionate by turn, was superb as the young Betty yet I found it difficult to believe that she was passionately in love with Craze. In lust most certainly, but not in love.

As for her guilt, we must remember that times have changed and adultery in the 1950s was looked upon in quite a different light. However, it’s not unusual for marriages to lose their spark, for the wife (or sometimes even the husband) to feel taken for granted, or there’d certainly be no Shirley Valentine!

Sue Johnstone as the older Betty was disappointing. Almost throughout her facial expression remained unchanged – for someone remembering the past, it was more vacant than distant – and while it’s easy to appreciate the despair she felt over her son’s imminent departure (their goodbye almost moved me to tears), the roof top episode beggared belief.

And did Donald really deserve to be treated so? I don’t think he did. Okay, he took Betty for granted, only touched when he ‘wanted it’ and rarely engaged with her in any sort of conversation.

But he worked hard and, although she couldn’t see it, revealed his love for her with small unappreciated gestures – the older Donald (Alun Armstrong) particularly so. And yes, you would be right in thinking that the Messers Armstrong are real life father and son. What a clever move, especially as both seemed completely at ease in the role.

And finally James whose Craze was suitably arrogant and devious and, as a latter-day Lothario, totally believable. He quite simply oozed sex appeal, making it easy to see why Betty so readily succumbed to his charms.

With such a promising start, I expected more – an unexpected twist or two – so the second part was disappointing to say the least. It did, however, depict human behaviour and emotions as they really are – warts and all – which is certainly reassuring.

So although far from perfect, it wasn’t by any means all bad, and you could certainly do worse than spend three hours with A Passionate Woman.