Masterpiece Theater: The Heat of the Day

It’s a good thing The Heat of the Day is one of those rare one-part Masterpiece Theatres: If this dolorous Harold Pinter adaptation of an Elizabeth Bowen novel had gone on for a few more Sundays, viewers would be so depressed, so utterly drained of energy, that the PBS-watching segment of the American work force might come to a complete standstill.

Set in World War II London, Bowen’s novel told the story of a British intelligence agent (The Singing Detective‘s Michael Gambon) who informs a woman (Patricia Hodge) that her lover (Michael York) is a spy selling secrets to the enemy. Gambon’s character makes an unusual proposal, however: He won’t reveal York’s traitorous deeds if Hodge will become his mistress.

Pinter has taken this melodramatic premise and sucked all the emotion and tension out of it, reducing this provocative romantic triangle to a series of monosyllabic exchanges much more reminiscent of his plays than of Bowen’s lively prose. The characters all seem sick of life, even in the throes of passion — existential dread has turned them into sad-eyed bores. Of the actors, only Hodge is able to transcend the assiduous banality of Pinter’s script. She accomplishes this by giving most of her lines an ironic — and occasionally erotic — spin, as if this sourpuss Pinter must be kidding. He’s not, but thank goodness Hodge chose to interpret it that way. C-

Masterpiece Theater: The Heat of the Day
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