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The Cloning of Joanna May

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Many of the people who brought us the superlative 1987 British television version of The Life and Loves of a She-Devil are together again in The Cloning of Joanna May: star Patricia Hodge, director Philip Saville, and Ted Whitehead, who has once again written the teleplay for a Fay Weldon novel. And like She-Devil, Joanna May mixes feminist satire with barbed fantasy.

In this production, Hodge portrays Joanna, a middle-aged beauty recently rejected by her big-time financier husband, Carl (Brian Cox), in favor of a young trollop played by Siri Neal. But then we learn that there’s a level on which Carl is still in love with his wife. He dreams of having a younger version of Joanna, and, using his vast wealth to tap into experimental technology, he orders up three biological variations on Joanna — three beautiful clones, all apparently in their 20s, played by Emma Hardy, Helen Adie, and Laura Eddy.

Up through the unveiling of the clones — about midway through this three-hour production — Joanna is good, mean-minded, man-hating fun. But once the clones are out and about, the movie loses steam — it has nowhere to go with its premise, other than to prove over and over that Carl is a weasel. Cox, so chilling as the Dr. Lecter of the 1986 cult hit Manhunter, makes an excellent weasel, but that doesn’t prevent Joanna from eventually becoming a tiresome satire. C+