Antonia & Jane
directed by Beeban Kidron
(BBC, 1991)

Antonia McGill is the woman who has everything: good looks, class, a beautiful home, a good job in the publishing industry and Jane's ex-boyfriend.

Jane Hartmann is a woman who has nothing but trouble: a broad flat face exaggerated by oversized glasses, boiling-over locks of hair to which there are no keys, a wardrobe leftover from the first filming of Nanook of the North, a flat next to England's busiest rail line and the honor of being the disk jockey for a local retirement home every Saturday night -- all by herself, of course.

The only things Antonia and Jane have in common are a psychoanalyst and an upcoming dinner date, the last remnant of a once dynamic, if somewhat inexplicable, friendship.

Things, it seems, have not been good between Antonia and Jane (Saskia Reeves and Immelda Staunton) since Antonia announced that she was marrying Jane's ex-boyfriend Howard. The news hit Jane hard, since she hadn't yet heard that she and Howard had broken up.

All this, of course, could be just one more day in the life at General Hospital if it weren't for some insightful work by screenwriter Marcy Kahan and director Beeban Kidron, who arm Antonia and Jane with an arsenal of verbal jabs and fill Antonia & Jane with one hysterically funny vignette after another.

The best invariably involve Jane's lovers, one of whom can't become aroused unless she reads to him from Iris Murdoch (Jane, of course, hates Murdoch) and another who has only one slight flaw: he's escaped from prison, where he's doing time for dealing drugs.

Antonia has her moments as well: winning a bidding war over a taxi, only to have her victory come back to haunt her, or learning her anonymous lover's identity at an excruciatingly embarrassing moment.

But the engine that drives Antonia & Jane, a 1991 BBC Films Production, is Antonia and Jane's upcoming dinner date, an annual event that generates at least as much anxiety as Will Kane's confrontation with the Miller gang in High Noon.

The reason for that is a dirty little secret, known only to Antonia and Jane's psychoanalyst and revealed to viewers one fragment at a time: That Antonia envies Jane as much as Jane envies Antonia.

How this is possible, given what we see of Jane's life, is not easy to explain. But Kidron and Kahan lay it all out for us with both gusto and style, making the most of the little tragedies that consume our days and the anxieties and drive us to be both better and worse than we really are.

In the end, it's unclear whether Antonia & Jane has anything really new to say about the rigors of friendship, especially female friendship, in the last decade of the 20th century.

At its worst, it's predictable, as in the scene where the members of the retirement community besiege Jane with advice to improve both her dee-jaying and her social life.

But at its best, Antonia & Jane is a visual and verbal delight: Witness Howard's photographic exhibit of nude rear ends. "Next month I'm tackling elbows," he tells Jane at their first meeting.

British humor may not be your cup of tea. But if it is, Antonia & Jane is one tea party you won't want to miss.

[ by Miles O'Dometer ]

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