The Millionairess

George Bernard Shaw
BBC DVD
(2006)

The 1972 small screen version of the life of the flouncing, fur-clad Epifania Ognisanti di Parerga Fitzfassenden is a true delight.

This is primarily thanks to Maggie Smith, who gives an unforgettable performance in a title part previously played by Edith Evans, Katharine Hepburn, Penelope Keith and, on film, Sophia Loren.

The Millionairess was one of Shaw's final plays, written when he was 79, but still contains sparkling comedy that is almost in Noël Coward mode. This is particularly the case when the hideously self-possessed heroine finally almost meets her match in a penniless Indian doctor, the part made famous on film by Peter Sellers and here rendered very effectively by future Dr Who, Tom Baker.

It is not just this pairing that makes the play so witty. From the very opening scene when Peter Barkworth, playing the driest of solicitors, talks his distressed but very rich new client out of suicide, a perfect tone is established.

Most of the heroine's problems are caused by her father fixation but the issue is hardly helped by a rather dim husband (James Villiers) and opinionated would-be lover (Charles Gray). In both cases, she makes her views known forcibly, almost killing the not-lover as she demonstrates judo skills at the top of a staircase.

The pleasure of The Millionairess lies in Maggie Smith's superb acting as the arch heroine who is used to getting her way and running over those who get in her way. One would have expected no less from a fine actress in her prime (her Jean Brodie, who might have been Epi's Scottish cousin, was released four years before).

Both actress and character are absolutely irresistible, as demonstrated in manic sequences as she turns her hand to jobs in a sweat shop and as a scullery maid.

In both cases, the lady get her hands dirty for less than five minutes before discovering a vocation for management rather than ordinary drudgery.

This DVD is strongly recommended and should make you, like the reviewer, laugh out loud on several occasions during its 100 minutes.

Reviewer: Philip Fisher