Oliver's Travels by stdepue


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"Oliver's Travels" is a British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC)
television series, sort of a light British mystery/road picture/drama/
adventure/romantic comedy/thriller. It was, interestingly enough,
actually made by BBC Wales: an unusual provenance that, which possibly
explains the plentiful, lovely Welsh scenery and the plentiful
supporting actors, with yeasty little parts, and strong flavorful Welsh
accents, not necessarily given cast credits that we see in the first
episodes. It might also explain, for all we know, the bounteous green
highways and byways of Midlands-Northern English scenery, and Scottish
scenery, that we see later on -- we even see Hadrian's Wall that
separates England and Scotland, for goodness sake. And all of the
scenery populated by more outstanding supporting actors, enjoying their
fully-written parts, and using their local accents to the fullest.

At any rate, the series, in five episodes, was initially broadcast on
the BBC in 1995; it was broadcast on American Public Broadcasting
System's Masterpiece Theatre in 1996, and reprised once. Since then,
apparently, viewers have been begging for it to be released on DVD. It's
now in a 2-volume boxed set, containing the five episodes, with a
running time of approximately 245 minutes. And in my purchase at least,
secret subtitles, not advertised on the box, but they are there,
nevertheless to allow us on this side of the pond to enjoy all those
Welsh, Geordie, and Scottish accents to the fullest. (If you ask your TV
for the subtitles, and the TV has the capacity to produce them, and they
have been layered into the DVD, there they will be.)

Alan Bates (Women in Love) stars as Oliver (we never learn whether it's
his first name or last), an eccentric professor of comparative religions
at a Welsh redbrick university, who, after being involuntarily retired,
decides to track down "Aristotle," maker of his favorite Times crossword
puzzles. His efforts to do so bring him into contact with Sinead Cusack
(Stealing Beauty) as policewoman Diane Priest, who has been suspended
for some incautious sleuthing on a murder mystery that comes too near
top brass, so she’s given all the loonies at her precinct. So Oliver
and Diane decide to throw in their lots together and travel cross-
country to Scotland's Orkney Islands, in pursuit of "Aristotle;" and the
miscreants in her mystery: the two quests seem to be growing tied
together. The witty script is by the award-winning Alan Plater (The
Beiderbecke Trilogy). Some of the outstanding supporting performers who
turn up are Bill Paterson, Miles Anderson,Ian Cuthbertson and John
Woodvine. Also providing wonderful support are Mollie Sugden (Mrs.
Slocombe, in ARE YOU BEING SERVED), and the wonderful Charlotte Coleman,
who died far too young ("Scarlett" in FOUR WEDDINGS AND A FUNERAL.)

It’s seldom enough we see a middle-aged romance, between actors who
show wrinkles, though they are certainly attractive people; and it's
welcome when we do. And they keep their clothes on, what a relief!
(Though sorry, I must say, in one way this series does seem to belong to
an earlier school of British filmmaking that reflected earlier British
dentistry standards: Bates' teeth are absolutely brown, and you'd never
call Cusack's white.) Furthermore, this is a distinctly light,
"romantic" mystery, and a road picture with lots and lots of whimsy, and
witty banter: you'd best have a taste for that kind of thing to fully
enjoy it. The action is slow enough, and there's non-stop chat in the
car; some of it can seem precious and pointless. Some American viewers
may find the script overwritten, and feel that Bates tends to overact in
it: a certain "twee" quality results. Nevertheless, even an
entertainment that tries too hard to be charming can be charming. And
this is.

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