Pauline Collins is one of those actresses that seem to have been around forever. Now 73 years old, Collins has appeared at regular intervals on the small screen since 1971 when the BBC worldwide hit Upstairs, Downstairs made her a star.
Probably best known here for the title role in the movie Shirley Valentine, Collins has a number of interesting credits to her name, not least as Queen Victoria in Doctor Who, but I was pleasantly surprised to find her two series turn as The Ambassador available on Hulu Plus.
Collins plays the role of Harriet Smith, an experienced British ambassador, who has been appointed to the post in Dublin in the Republic of Ireland. As you would expect, the series focuses on the professional and private life of the ambassador – because apparently it’s one of the unwritten laws of such shows that your private life must intrude on your professional one. Smith’s husband was killed four years earlier in a car bomb that was meant for his wife; a fact that eldest son Nate holds against his mother.
Originally broadcast in 1999 and 2000 by the BBC, The Ambassador is a well-crafted show, with strong supporting performances. Denis Lawson, Wedge Antilles in the original Star Wars trilogy, is impressive if a little too impulsive as John Stone, the representative of MI-6, the British Secret Service, and William Chubb plays an excellent diplomatic toad more concerned with appearances and working to the expectations of the bureaucrats in London than the needs on the ground locally. There’s also a wonderful theme by Richard Harvey that is rather stirring. Theme music is something of a passion of mine, and this will certainly find a place in my top 50.
Collins is lovely in the role, showing a sharp mind in dealing with issues and manipulating those around her when needed. I spent the whole of the first episode struck by a nagging awareness whenever she spoke and finally realized that her mouth and speech pattern reminded me of Dame Judi Dench. Just a curious observation in passing that may interest only me.
Filmed on location, the choice of Ireland is a clever one as it allows for a broad knowledge of the culture and language while still being a foreign country. Owen Roe plays Irish Minister Kevin Flaherty with whom the ambassador frequently clashes when British and Irish goals do not coincide.
The second season, six episodes in length as the first, has a number of changes, not least the disappearance from the series of the character of Smith’s eldest son Nate, along with a couple of assistants. Peter Egan, another familiar face to UK television fans, joins the cast as a love interest for a few episodes, but this remains Collins’ show to carry – which she does with some aplomb.
– Wallace Poulter