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television: Warmhearted Fluff

Masterpiece Theatre entertains with its latest, if you're willing to suspend disbelief

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Instead, he's earning a living as an undercover gossip columnist, freelancing for a London tabloid. His stories — written under the pseudonymous byline "Mrs. Jones" — are about the foibles and peccadilloes of film stars, TV celebrities and the occasional theatrical luminary. He's still young enough to have an edge, to yearn for more substance in his professional and in his private life, but he's content for the moment to be a carefree bachelor, given to responsibility and irresponsibility in equal measure. He's drifting, and he knows it, but he's complacent.

Laura Bowden is Britain's prime minister. She's devoted her life in equal measure to public service and her family — her husband and two young children. She took over the top government job only a few months ago when the former prime minister died, and now she's facing her first general election. The electorate sees her as a grim and humorless figure, a pose she has adopted publicly for the sake of gravitas. Her staff has less faith in her political acumen than she has. She knows it, and she's beginning to chafe under their relentless direction. But the biggest problem clouding her political horizon is her husband. He's a philanderer.

The publisher of the tabloid that Liam works for wants Laura to lose the election. So, who better to seek out the dirt than "Mrs. Jones?" Liam's protestations that he knows nothing about politics fall on deaf ears. But there may be one possibility: Liam knows a fundraiser for the PM's party who might be able to arrange an invitation to a garden party at 10 Downing Street.

As fast as you can say "romantic fantasy," Liam is dancing with the prime minister.

This is the point at which you really have to suspend all disbelief. Is it really possible today for a journalist using a fake name to find himself in the arms of one of the leaders of the free world? And could he really hide a minirecorder under a fireplace log in her study without being detected? Would a real journalist give up the headline of a lifetime for a lifetime of love? Well, probably not, surely not and maybe not. But because of the force of an amiable script, not to mention the gobs of magic that radiate from both main characters, it's an easy task. The hardest heart would want these two people to fall in love and live happily ever after.

The winsome cast of "Me & Mrs. Jones" is headed with charm (him) and grace (her) by Robson Green ("Reckless") as Liam and Caroline Goodall ("Schindler's List") as Laura. Both connect with the audience from the opening credits and hold them in thrall throughout. He smolders, she sparkles, and the audience is entranced.

To prove how good he is, scriptwriter Caleb Ranson even finds a way — in a truly surprising late plot twist — to extricate Laura from her marriage without rancor and establish her husband as an endearing figure in his own right.

"Me & Mrs. Jones" is, all told, merely a bit of warmhearted fluff, surprisingly so for the venerable "Masterpiece Theatre." But everybody needs a break now and then, and this is one well worth taking. S



Airs Sunday, Jan. 26, from 9 p.m. to 11 p.m. on PBS-TV.

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