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Domestic strife, doubled

October 11, 2003|Samantha Bonar | Times Staff Writer

It was the best of times (for him), it was the worst of times (for his two wives).

The Oxygen channel's first original film, "A Tale of Two Wives" (tonight at 8), is really a tale of two lives. Bill (played by Peter Gallagher, he of the massive eyebrows) is a psychiatrist with a wife in New York (Rose, played by Cheryl Hines) and another in England (Charlie, played by Dervla Kirwan).

In his amoral mind, two wives on two continents are the perfect solution to the tedium of marriage. He spends one week with one wife, the next with the other, never getting bored, while racking up frequent-flier miles. Bill uses psychology to justify his sleazy solution, arguing that marriage is an outdated institution that needs to evolve or die.

The situation isn't so blissful for Rose and Charlie, however. Although they don't know about each other for three years, Rose's sleeping-pill popping and compulsive redecorating signal that she knows deep down that something is not quite right. Charlie, the newer wife, is clueless until Bill's 9-year-old daughter sends a photo of Bill and Rose's wedding to his London address, which Charlie intercepts.

A cheater's worst nightmare then ensues: The two wives not only find out about each other, they meet and plot revenge, vowing to deprive Bill of the two things he values most: money and control. The first half of the film is the setup, the second half the downfall, and the bigger the bigamist, the harder he falls.

"A Tale of Two Wives" is a nice revenge fantasy for any woman who has been cheated on. In the end, the two wives prove they can be just as conniving in exacting retribution as their husband was in juggling his two lives.

But in the end, the questions Bill raises about the viability of the institution of marriage are never answered. With a 50% divorce rate, clearly there is something rotten in the state of matrimony today. That rotten something may be more than just men. Still, it's fun to see one bad apple get his just desertions.

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