A sexed-up modern day adaptation of one of Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales…
A 50 something soap opera actress starts a relationship with her co-star, who is thirty years younger after her husband leaves her.
BBC One Scotland Junction 12th September 2003, Benriggers
Now for an all-star British cast, in the series Canterbury Tales (2003) and my review on the second episode, a drama comedy titled The Wife Of Bath. This was one of a six part British television series modernising Geoffrey Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales in individual stand alone episodes. These episodes include The Miller’s Tale, The Knight’s Tale and The Sea Captain’s Tale. The show featured British lovelies including Dennis Waterman, Billie Piper, Keeley Hawes, John Simms and Andrew Lincoln.
This particular episode stars British National Treasure Julie Walters, former EastEnders heartthrob, Paul Nicholls and everybody’s favourite eccentric avuncular actor, Bill Nighy. The story starts as Beth Craddock (Walters) outlines her motivations and character in one line stating;
“I want to give the best years of my life, to the acts and satisfaction of a wife”.
The main characters are then introduced by the characters themselves. This is as they are interviewed by Arts Review a fictional TV show. 50 something-year-old Beth Craddock, has been happily married for 16 years. Before this, she says has had more marriages than most and she left school at 16 when she married her first husband. She is a successful actress and plays Ros a popular character and producer of a TV soap.
Her husband, James Dunbar (Bill Nighy) is a dentist. He feels his wife is not complete as a person unless she is in a relationship. His niece Jess is Beth’s Personal Assistant on the show. We then meet her colleagues on the show, as the show includes footage of a storyline meeting. Jane (Samantha Bond) is the show’s producer who believes that Beth and James have the perfect marriage.
Beth’s co-star is Jerome (Nicholls). He obviously has a bit of a crush on his much older co-star – who is thirty years his senior – as he gets a bit tongue-tied talking about her. During this meeting, Beth puts forward a plot that Jerome’s character Gary, wakes up – with a hangover – to find that he has raped another character and that her character Ros condemns him, but secretly loves him.
Away from the cameras, Jerome spends most of his time sleeping with the TV crew, anytime and anywhere. He gets a lift home from Beth. As she animately tells him a bawdy story, complete with actions he laughs and their strong off-screen rapport is obvious.
Beth comes home to her palatial house and starts to talk suggestively to her husband. However, he has something serious to tell her. He’s leaving her for a younger woman, a patient of his and she has had his child (who has just started school). He’s only telling her as the Press has just discovered this story. Meanwhile, Jerome is sleeping with another member of the crew, in a pub toilet.
Beth is shocked then hurt – asking if this woman is better in bed than her – and angry and throws James out. She also sacks him as her company’s director (which was a tax dodge) and tells him he can’t keep the car. The next day, she’s pretty gutted and hungover but Beth allows Jess to continue living with her. At work, she suggests her soap character starts a relationship with Gary.
This plotline is in contrast to her character, who is his pastor and thirty years older than him. But this plotline is agreed on by the writer who works into the storyline. Jane as the producer is not happy because of the characters’ age difference and this story would not be credible for Beth’s soap character.
On set, in bed, Beth gets flirty with Jerome, before their love scene. She suggests indirectly they make love on set. He complies and afterwards, they then make frenzied love in her trailer off set. Beth then visits her estranged husband, James. She is shocked he’s in a relationship with someone who is 45, but who looks older than her and that he now “lives in a semi”. James also turns down her offer to move back and go to St Lucia with him on holiday with her as they had planned.
Beth and Jerome start an intense sexually fuelled relationship, and then they fall in love. However, Jess is concerned for Beth because of his notorious womanising ways. After he moves in Jerome discovers that Beth has a bathroom cupboard full of creams and tablets to make her look younger. She is also a keep-fit fanatic.
One morning, she is called downstairs by Jess. There is a policeman there who tells her that James was killed in a car accident. After his funeral, Beth continues her relationship with Jerome. The pair come back from St Lucia, engaged and get married soon after – both wearing scarlet red attire – to the horror of his parents. Beth makes him the director of her company for tax reasons.
However, all is not as good at work, as Jane tells Beth that they are going to dismiss Jerome from the show due to a dip in ratings… so Beth advises Jerome to resign and then look for a new acting job, not telling him the real reason which he does. (The rest of this show can be seen in the usual ways).
The story is affectionately told with some comic moments. Although a small role, Bill Nighy’s character as Beth’s philandering husband James was played sympathetically and he seemed quite apologetic that he had to leave her because the Press had discovered his affair.
Julie Walters deservedly won a Best Actress award for her performance at the BAFTAs. The show also won nominations for the Best Single Drama and Best Costume Design. Paul Nicholls talked about working wife his co-star Walters HERE,
“I pinch myself every day. Julie is the best person I’ve ever worked with in my life – so funny, so brilliant. I’ve had such a laugh on this job, I really don’t want it to finish.”
The two have a warm rapport on screen in all their joint scenes and the pair share many on-screen lovemaking scenes which are shown leaving little to the imagination. Paul Nicholls gave a believable performance throughout the episode and he proved good support to Walters. However, I believe that only later in this show that his talents were shown.
Although, I would recommend you hunt down his EastEnders episodes to see this actor at his best. Here he convincingly played Joe Wicks, a young teenager with schizophrenia. For this role that Nicholls played at the age of 16 or 17, I was impressed by his acting depths in this realistically researched storyline.
Walters is a real tour de force, and believable as the outward, outrageous star with a bawdy sense of humour. However, her character was also told sympathetically, as Beth’s real life fears of being without a relationship were noted as she pleaded with James to stay with her. She also started a relationship with Jerome after James left her. Beth as a character admitted to using beauty treatments, tablets and exercise to keep young looking.
The themes of this story explored how this actress hopes to keep her looks and not look her age. These methods seemed quite extreme in nature. It was quite sad that her character felt her outward looks and outgoing character were the only ways to attract a husband. If perhaps this character had watched Harold and Maude (1971) or Bridget Jones Diary (2001) or any other on-screen romance, or even remembered an off-screen love story she might just have thought differently.
As to quote that Bridget Jones film when a character (so as no spoilers are given) tells her;
But the thing is, um, what I’m trying to say, very inarticulately, is that, um, in fact, perhaps despite appearances, I like you, very much. Just as you are.
Loving someone just the way they are is also stressed by a character to the girl he loves in A Room with a View (1985). It is also sung about by everyone and anyone from Billy Joel to Barry White too, as that’s true love (actually). But watch the rest to see if will Jerome be this soap star’s first, last, and everything…
Weeper Rating: 😦 /10
Handsqueeze Rating: 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 /10
Hulk Rating: /10
The 2021 Classic Literature on Film Blogathon, No 9.
This blogathon was added to Silver Screen Classic‘s 2nd Annual Literature on Film Blogathon. Other posts with this cast include Bill Nighy in Doctor Who, Shaun of the Dead, Hot Fuzz, Love Actually and About Time. Julie Walters stars in Mamma Mia 2 Here We Go Again, Mamma Mia and Educating Rita. Paul Nicholls in EastEnders.