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Always an England

The first eight episodes of the BBC's 26-part 'The Pallisers,' starring the redoubtable Susan Hampshire, are being released.

September 28, 2000|SUSAN KING | TIMES STAFF WRITER

For more than 30 years, Susan Hampshire has reigned as queen of the British miniseries. She's also had great success in the colonies, picking up Emmys for her memorable performances in the PBS presentations of "The Forsyte Saga," "The First Churchills" and "Vanity Fair."

Anglophiles, especially Hampshirephiles, are in for a treat: This week, Acorn Media is releasing on video and DVD the first eight episodes of "The Pallisers," the delicious 1974 period drama starring Hampshire ($80 for the set).

Based on the novels by Anthony Trollope, this 26-part, BBC-produced melodrama chronicles the passion and politics of Victorian England. Hampshire plays Lady Glencora Palliser, a young, headstrong woman who is forced into marriage with a rather staid member of the House of Commons (Philip Latham). Acorn plans to release the remaining episodes next year.

The clothing and sets are gorgeous and the drama is addictive fun. It co-stars Derek Jacobi, Roger Livesey, Anna Massey, Donal McCann and a very young Anthony Andrews and Jeremy Irons.

"The Pallisers," says the 62-year-old Hampshire, was a wonderful experience, but very exhausting. "We had a BBC strike in the middle of it," she explains. "It [took] over a year to do. It was a huge commitment, really."

The role of Glencora was originally slated for Hayley Mills. But after having a baby, Mills thought the series would be too much work for her. Hampshire, too, had had a baby--a girl--but the infant died. Her doctor advised the actress that returning to work would be the best therapy. So she auditioned and got the part.

Glencora was a much more difficult role for Hampshire than her manipulative Fleur of "Forsyte Saga" or the charming but opportunistic Becky Sharp of "Vanity Fair," because Glencora was "too nice to be an exciting challenge," the actress says. "She was the heroine."

The majority of "The Pallisers," was shot on tape instead of film--in a style called "live on tape," meaning the director tried to get everything on the first take. Such shows would rehearse for about a week and then go into the studio to shoot. For "The Forsyte Saga," an episode was taped in about two hours. With "The Pallisers," Hampshire says, they had the luxury of about two days.

Even so, she adds, "you didn't have the time to do retakes--you could do one if it was a catastrophe--then you would rush off and change your costume and then run back on."

Though she finds TV much less stressful now, Hampshire thought doing it live on tape was more exciting. "It gives you the buzz which kind of heightens your performance."

Besides "The Pallisers," Hampshire can also be seen in the 1997 eight-hour miniseries "The Grand," which has just been released on Goldhil Home Media International ($70). "I did a wonderful part of a retired prostitute," she says. "I did two [seasons] of that."

Hampshire, who also appeared in the 1964 Disney film "The Three Lives of Thomasina," is now starring on British TV in another successful series, "Monarch of the Glen."

"It's about an impoverished lord of the castle in Scotland. I am his wife. It's a nice light comedy. There is no swearing, no sex, no violence. People are craving for something where they can sit down on a Sunday evening with their families. It's very nice. One is always lucky to be employed."

"The Pallisers" can be ordered by calling (800) 999-0212 or logging on to http://www.acornmedia.com. To order "The Grand," call (800) 250-8760.

*

Kino on Video's latest collection, "Rare Treasures of European Cinema" ($25 for VHS; $30 for DVD), turns the spotlight on France's Claude Chabrol, Italy's Michelangelo Antonioni and American-born Joseph Losey, who worked in Europe after being blacklisted by Hollywood.

Losey's "Eva," which was released in 1962, is a difficult, demanding drama filled with unsympathetic characters. Nevertheless, the performances are wonderful.

Stanley Baker plays a Welsh writer who seems to have it all--beautiful digs in Rome and a gorgeous, sweet fiancee (Virna Lisi). But he's a bored cynic who is actually living a lie. He meets his match when he falls head-over-heels for Eve (a terrific Jeanne Moreau), an equally cynical femme fatale who drips of ennui--and that obsessive relationship soon takes its toll on Lisi's character.

The DVD includes the release version and Losey's cut, which runs about 15 minutes longer.

Antonioni's "Il Grido" perhaps should have been called "Il Grimo." This stark, depressing 1957 drama marks the famed Italian director's transition from his early neo-realist films like "I Vinti" to his more stylized masterpieces such as "L'Avventura."

American actor Steve Cochran plays a magnetic but brutish refinery mechanic who, upon the end of a seven-year affair with a married woman (Alida Valli), takes their young daughter and aimlessly wanders the countryside. He briefly visits an old flame (Betsy Blair), falls for a lonely, earthy widow and ends up in the arms of the prostitute.

Chabrol's neglected 1960 classic, "Les Bonnes Femmes," has practically been unseen in the United States since it was first released four decades ago. Offbeat, consistently compelling and suspenseful, "Les Bonnes Femmes" stars Stephane Audran, Bernadette Lafont, Lucile Saint-Simon and Clotilde Joano as shopgirls working in a dingy Paris store who are looking for love--in all the wrong places.

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