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Masterpiece Theatre's latest reunites two veteran actors in a rather satisfying story.

A Rather Good Program

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"A Rather English Marriage"
PBS-TV
Sunday, Oct. 3
9 p.m.

Two old war-horses are harnessed together yet again for a Masterpiece Theatre presentation of a charming — and uniquely English — drama that starts off at a slow pace but moves forward inexorably, and powerfully, to a most satisfying conclusion at the finish line.

The two war-horses are Albert Finney and Tom Courtenay, making their first film appearance together since 1983 when they were in "The Dresser," the classic about an aging Shakespearean actor and his sycophantic assistant.

Portly now, to put it politely, and graying to boot, Finney made his mark in cinema history long ago with his brilliant portrayal of the title character in the 1963 film comedy "Tom Jones," based on the Henry Fielding novel. U.K. audiences, however, knew him before that for his role in "Saturday Night and Sunday Morning," a 1960 film that was a hallmark of British realist cinema. No longer a sex symbol — he was born in 1936 — Finney's recent motion-picture roles have included the part of an alcoholic diplomat in American director John Huston's "Under the Volcano," and noteworthy performances in "Miller's Crossing" and "A Man of No Importance."

Courtenay, who is Finney's equal in talent, has not made as much of a name for himself in the U.S., although he is well-remembered for his role in "The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner," the 1962 film in which he starred with Michael Redgrave.

It is the splendid chemistry between these two veteran actors that makes Masterpiece Theatre's "A Rather English Marriage" such an enchanting interlude and sparked it to a win as the best single drama on television this year in the prestigious British Academy of Film and Television Arts awards.

Based on a novel by Angela Lambert, "A Rather English Marriage" is the story of an upper-crust ladies' man and ex-RAF squadron leader, Reggie Conyngham-Jervis (Finney), and a retired milkman who was a ground soldier in World War II, Roy Southgate (Courtenay). They meet when their wives die in the same hospital on the same day, and they are paired up by a social worker who arranges for them to live together in Reggie's mansion.

Predictably, Reggie sets up the rules straight off: "You'll call me Squadron Leader and I'll call you Southgate." In short order, the pattern is set: Southgate cooks and cleans and Reggie wines, dines and chases ladies — none of whom are aware that the money was all Reggie's wife's and that when he dies the remainder reverts to a trust.

Then comes Liz — played by Joanna Lumley ("Absolutely Fabulous") — who owns a struggling boutique and is looking for some gold to dig.

The mix provides a few laughs and a few tears as all three characters try to manage with the bad hands life has dealt them. And the final scene will leave you with a bittersweet smile that makes it all

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