Saturday, February 1, 2014

‘Foreign Affairs’: Two Old Pros in a London Love Story

by Joe Meyers)

The Warner Archive DVD-on-demand program has been digging into the TV movie library of Turner Pictures recently and they unearthed a gem, a 1993 adaptation of Alison Lurie’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, “Foreign Affairs,” starring Joanne Woodward and Brian Dennehy.

It was a treat to stumble on a good little movie which I had never heard of before. “Foreign Affairs” was part of the TNT Originals series in the early 1990s and it afforded Woodward the sort of role she could not have found in a theatrical film of that period.

Woodward plays Vinnie Miner, a New England academic who is on her way to London for a research trip when the story begins. Vinnie is a prickly character and the actress is unafraid to be rather off-putting in the early scenes in which she tries to avoid talking to her trans-Atlantic seatmate, a gabby engineer from Oklahoma, Chuck Mumpson (Dennehy).

Vinnie shuts the man down with a book, but when stranded at Heathrow, she takes him up on an offer to join his tour group bus.

“Foreign Affairs” contrives to keep having these two strangers meet — with Chuck pushing himself on Vinnie with offers she cannot refuse (especially after she rudely gives him a non-working phone number when he says he would like to call her).

Woodward and Dennehy are just about the whole show — there is a poorly developed subplot involving a married colleague of Vinnie’s having an affair with an older London stage actress — but they are more than enough to power this bittersweet love story.

It was fun to see two of my favorite actors team up to play a love mismatch that becomes surprisingly moving. Vinnie realizes there is more to Chuck than met her eye on that airplane and Woodward allows us to see the character slowly shedding her reserve.

“Foreign Affairs” is a tad underproduced, and rushed-looking, in the TV movie manner, but Dennehy and Woodward make the most of a rare, middle-age love and sex story.