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The Weekend Australian - Review - - Television - Evan Wil­liams

WITH apolo­gies to other wor­thy con­tenders, the ti­tle of great­est liv­ing screen ac­tress may come down to a choice be­tween Hol­ly­wood’s Meryl Streep and Bri­tain’s Judi Dench, though for ver­sa­til­ity and sheer out­put (not to men­tion the range of her ac­cents) Streep must be given the edge. She was an Os­car win­ner in 1979 for Kramer vs. Kramer and a lead­ing star in the 1980s, yet ex­traor­di­nar­ily the best years of her ca­reer were still ahead. In 1992 she was con­fi­dent enough to play a fad­ing ac­tress in Robert Ze­meckis’s black com­edy Death Be­comes Her (Sun­day, De­cem­ber 16, mid­night, Seven), a role most ac­tresses at the top of their form would have spurned as a por­tent of de­cline. It’s a weird spoof on the cul­ture of nar­cis­sism and celebrity, in which Streep’s char­ac­ter, Made­line, mar­ries a plas­tic sur­geon (Bruce Wil­lis) in the be­lief he can re­store her tar­nished glam­our, thus spark­ing a mur­der­ous feud with her best friend He­len (Goldie Hawn). Yes, the jokes are laboured, but the film has some won­der­fully funny mo­ments, and Streep brings typ­i­cal gusto and con­vic­tion to her role.

In Plenty (Satur­day, 1.50am, Nine), she plays an English re­sis­tance fighter work­ing be­hind the lines in Ger­man-oc­cu­pied France, where she has a passionate af­fair with dash­ing Bri­tish agent Sam Neill. Post-war life seems flat and stale by com­par­i­son, es­pe­cially in the com­pany of hus­band Ray­mond (Charles Dance), a pol­ished for­eign of­fice type who pa­tiently en­dures her in­creas­ingly neu­rotic be­hav­iour and the cruel edge of her per­son­al­ity. Fred Schep­isi’s sad, dark and trou­bling film, based on a David Hare play, can be seen as the play­wright’s lament for the squan­dered hopes for a bet­ter post-war Bri­tain in age of grow­ing af­flu­ence and plenty’’. Streep’s per­for­mance is edgy and un­set­tling and her English ac­cent, of course, is im­pec­ca­ble.

She was great as Mar­garet Thatcher in The Iron Lady just as Dench was great as Queen Vic­to­ria in Mrs Brown, and as Elizabeth I in Shake­speare in Love. So is there a clear win­ner here? With fa­mous turns as Cleopa­tra, Mis­tress Quickly and the fad­ing Iris Mur­doch, not to men­tion M in the Bond films, per­haps the ver­sa­til­ity prize should go to Dench. The part of Laura Hen­der­son in Stephen Frears’s Mrs Hen­der­son Presents (Satur­day, 11.30pm, Ten) may well have been made for her. It’s an­other film about a woman’s ef­forts to come to terms with dis­sat­is­fac­tion and en­nui af­ter an ex­cit­ing life abroad. With no rel­ish for idle wid­ow­hood af­ter the death of her hus­band (a high-up in the In­dian for­eign ser­vice), Laura buys a derelict Lon­don the­atre, the Wind­mill, and turns it into a flour­ish­ing vaude­ville house, a venue for nude re­vue in the tra­di­tion of Paris’s Moulin Rouge. All rather shock­ing for the Bri­tish in 1939, though the Wind­mill was much loved by ser­vice­men in the war years.

(M) ★★★★✩ Satur­day, 11.30pm, Ten

(M) ★★★ ✩ Satur­day, 1.50am, Nine

(M) ★★★✩✩ Sun­day, De­cem­ber 16, mid­night, Seven

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