Me & Mrs. Jones

Me & Mrs. Jones

Liam Marple writes a gossip column for a British tabloid under the pseudonym Mrs. Jones. The name of the column reverberates, ironically, with Mother Jones, the progressive feminist magazine, but actually ties in to the theme song, the old pop song Me and Mrs. Jones by Billy Paul. Liam also goes undercover (in both senses) as Harry Fletcher to dig dirt on the newly appointed interim Prime Minister, Laura Bowden (Caroline Goodall).

Liam has broken up with his former girlfriend, who is also his boss at the magazine, and who may fire him if he does not produce scandalous copy for her. As Harry, he becomes the sex (or is it love?) interest of Madame Prime Minister. One of them—Liam or Harry—is a novelist, a shameless flim flam, a Prince Charming, a mender of broken hearts, and a man in moral crisis. Will Liam survive falling in love for real? Could Mrs. Jones become Mr. Madame Prime Minister?

It’s all good fun in Masterpiece Theater’s Me and Mrs. Jones, a very British sex-and-politics farce, and very obvious rehash of Dave and The American President. The story starts out feeling like a serious, behind-the-scenes drama, perhaps a Cold-War-era James Bond updated for audiences who still have the shameful sex scandals of the Clinton White House in mind. For American audiences, however, the suspension of disbelief will remain willing only when Liam Marple’s highway-robber antics and the schoolgirl crush of PM Laura Bowden on Liam are read as fairy tale.

The complete lack of security at 10 Downing Street, the ease with which Liam can infiltrate and fool the PM’s handlers, the na�ve trust Laura intuitively places in arch-cad Harry Fletcher provide the clues that this is a sexual farce. Marple, undercover as Fletcher, passes himself off as a fund-raiser, and yet nobody seems to have heard of him. He seduces Bowden by a single dance at a garden party. The PM, while being attacked by her political opponents as weak, uncommitted, a mere shadow of the previous PM (whom she has succeeded due to the latter’s untimely demise), it turns out, has remained married to her "best friend"–bravely, selflessly allowing her marriage to serve as an alibi to protect her husband’s homosexuality.

Since details of Jack Kennedy’s secret affair with Marilyn Monroe became urban legend and Bill Clinton was impeached by a Republican Congress for getting a blow job in the White House, America seems to be waking up to reality—great world leaders are just as mortal and fallible as everyone else, and, perhaps, more so, given the very public and therefore very restrictive social realms in which they must live. As Laura (for the viewer is as quickly intimate with her as Liam is) discovers that the secret to political success is to be true to oneself, damn the handlers and spin doctors, she learns to disengage from the dishonesty which has haunted her private life. Her most intimate moments of truth with Liam occur right out in public, along the banks of the Thames, while skipping stones across the water. The real scandal, it seems, is the dehumanizing force of power politics. The scandal in Washington is not the news of oral copulation, but that Puritanism is such a ruling force—Me and Mrs. Jones assumes this of its American audience.

Liam and Laura are two lonely people, whose hearts have been broken. Caroline Goodall (The Princess Diaries, The Mists of Avalon) is not quite plausible as a women Prime Minister, but she is strikingly beautiful, in a fairy-tale princess sort of way, and the camera caresses her regal English face and statuesque form. She is not nearly as "hard" and opportunistic as other characters keep telling us she is—if anything, hers is the "beautiful inner child" finally released from Maggie Thatcher’s "inner Iron Maiden." Laura’s loneliness is compounded by her abiding loyalty to her husband Richard (played by Philip Quast). Quast’s performance (singled out by other critics and fans as the best in this cast), feels dowdy and uninspired—"convincingly" portraying a homosexual seems to be enough to achieve accolades from some sources.

Robson Green builds his character in brusque, Sam Spade tones, and before succumbing to going through the motions of Robson Green, pretty-man, romantic lead, star, he actually starts emoting all over the place. Green is more in his element when Marple begins to grapple with the complexities of lust, trust, and the consequences of past emotional disaster. As Marple lives up to his ethical potential, the audience cheers him on to the happily ever after.

The Houses of Parliament are populated with a cast of colorful characters, and the "Upstairs, Downstairs" dramas hinted at in secondary scenes of the minor characters keep the story moving forward. The good are rewarded, the evil are punished, and everyone can go home with warm fuzzies and a smile. Would that the real leaders of the Western world are this human in reality, too.

- Les Wright

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