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TV Review : Spirited 'Rector's Wife' Tries to Break Out

October 08, 1994|HOWARD ROSENBERG | TIMES TELEVISION CRITIC

The most hallowed aspect of "The Rector's Wife" is Lindsay Duncan as a spirited woman stifled by a bad marriage to a troubled, rigid clergyman and the confining dictates of the village parish that he heads.

The first installment of PBS' three-part "Masterpiece Theatre" soap opera finds Anna Bouverie (Duncan) at a crossroads after the failure of her husband, Peter (Jonathan Coy), to win promotion to archdeacon. Hoping to alleviate a money pinch and shed the drabness of domesticity, she's about to horrify narrow-minded parishioners and her stodgy husband by doing the unthinkable: taking a job stacking groceries at a local supermarket.

Trapped in a life that, as she puts it, "doesn't allow for impulses," Anna is also a sexual affair waiting to happen, the potential collaborators being a wealthy village newcomer (Miles Anderson) and the handsome younger brother (Stephen Dillane) of the man (Ronald Pickup) who did get the archdeacon job.

This Hugh Whitemore adaptation of Joanna Trollope's novel of the same title is at its best during tiffs between the rebellious Anna and prim local churchwomen who resent her independence, something that "Masterpiece Theatre" host Russell Baker likens to conflicts between Hillary Rodham Clinton and her critics.

Duncan's appealingly measured Anna and Coy's inwardly seething Peter are an interesting pair. Yet the other males in her life are stock characters and, even more lethal, "The Rector's Wife" is 2 1/2 hours of moderately appealing story stretched across 3 1/2 hours. Episode 3 begins with a tragedy that erases virtually all conflict, making the meandering hour that follows as thin as a communal wafer.

* "The Rector's Wife" premieres Sunday at 9 p.m. on KCET-TV Channel 28 and KPBS-TV Channel 15, and at 8:30 p.m. on KVCR-TV Channel 24. It also airs at 8 p.m. Tuesday on KOCE-TV Channel 50.

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