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Television & Radio | TUNED IN

'Mrs. Jones' stretches romantic credulity

January 25, 2003|Josh Friedman | Times Staff Writer

You know something may be amiss when your host sounds slightly apologetic.

Such is the case with "Me & Mrs. Jones," the latest installment of "Masterpiece Theatre." In his opening, Russell Baker invites viewers to relax and enjoy the two-hour program (which runs Sunday at 9 p.m. on KCET and KVCR) as sheer comic fairy tale even as it strains credulity. That proves to be easier said than done, for what follows is a fairly bland pairing of unlikely romance and occasionally witty British political satire.

Robson Green plays aspiring novelist Liam Marple, who makes his living as a tabloid showbiz gossip columnist writing under the moniker "Mrs. Jones." Politics is the last thing on Marple's mind until he is assigned to dig up dirt on Britain's controversial new leader and starts snooping around undercover at 10 Downing St.

Caroline Goodall co-stars as the object of this seedy mission: Prime Minister Laura Bowden, who ascended to the top job several months earlier when the previous leader died. The outwardly dour Bowden faces a brewing scandal from the not-so-subtle philandering of her husband and grim prospects in the upcoming general election.

Bowden quickly feels pangs of passion for the suave, mysterious stranger Marple, whose pangs as he romances her are more from guilt -- at least at first.

"Me & Mrs. Jones," which was written by Caleb Ranson and directed by Catherine Morshead, offers a few humorous behind-the-scenes zingers in the style of "The West Wing." At one point Bowden loses patience with her coterie of officious handlers, who alternately strive to soften and toughen her image.

Green and Goodall muster a few romantic sparks, but the most remarkable aspect of their relationship is its implausibility from the start. Marple sweeps into the royal residence with ease -- there is virtually no security to deter him -- whisking Bowden out and about town for a whirlwind courtship faintly in the mold of the film classic "Roman Holiday."

Only the most hopelessly romantic viewers are likely to be swept away with them.

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