O what is so rare and jolly silly as this British attempt at American made-for-TV glitz based on a British version of American made-for-the-beach fiction? To Be the Best, a two-part, four-hour 1991 adaptation of Barbara Taylor Bradford’s breathless 1988 best-seller has already been seen in some 90 countries and, honey, the jet lag shows: CBS was obviously waiting for a couple of sweltering August nights when it was Too Hot to Wear Sequins before treating us to the sight of Lindsay Wagner (The Bionic Woman) in bionically complicated hair and a tenuously British accent as department store heiress Paula McGill O’Neill. Paula, you see, wants to expand the family business empire, but nasty, champagne-loving relatives and their hangers-on try to thwart her at every turn, led by her evil, Jacuzzi-loving cousin, Jonathan Ainsley (Christopher Cazenove of Dynasty) and his creepy right-hand man, Tony Chiu (James Saito of War and Remembrance).
Who will save Paula’s silk-covered hide? How about Anthony Hopkins (Silence of the Lambs) as dashing department store chief of security Jack Figg, possibly the only Academy Award winner around capable of playing bargain-basement James Bond with cheery goodwill. The costars form a directory of Brits who love the classics but who also need to pay the rent, including Masterpiece Theatre regulars David Robb (from I, Claudius, no less), Stuart Wilson (he was Vronsky, for heaven’s sake, in Anna Karenina), Fiona Fullerton, and Christopher Blake. The sight of would-be sex bomb Stephanie Beacham (Dynasty, The Colbys), the poor man’s Joan Collins, shot through extremely soft focus is, to be sure, a kind of thrill in itself. Hey, this is no Howards End. This is, like, Stephanie’s Cleavage. Love it — or watch a repeat of Married … With Children instead.