THE BET – written and directed by Joan Carr-Wiggin — SPOILERS
While having lunch in a restaurant, Isabel (Natasha Little) makes a bet with her husband Cal (Colin Salmon) that she can get the next man who walks into the place to propose to her. And while she initially fails in this effort, she gets a second chance.
The next guy to walk into the restaurant is Albert (Douglas Hodge). He sits at the bar, and Isabel takes off her wedding ring and sits next to him, but Albert is having a really bad day and is (quite reasonably) suspicious of this strange person trying to chat him up. Isabel’s failure becomes Cal’s favourite joke and he makes a point of telling it to everyone.
The next day, Isabel, who runs a tea company, meets Albert again because he’s a salesman for an office supply company and Isabel’s Tea is on his list of potential customers. Given this miraculous second chance, he asks Isabel to dinner. She refuses. But after Cal further humiliates Isabel while they are having dinner with their neighbours, Isabel walks out and calls Albert.
Long story short, Albert ends up living with Isabel for a while. (He is so upset to learn that Isabel is married and that she only approached him because of The Bet, that he gets very drunk, hits himself over the head with a bottle of vodka, and when he is released from hospital the doctor says he needs monitoring overnight.) When Cal finds out about that, he leaves and stays with the neighbours across the street, one of whom (Jennifer, played by Linda Kash) is in love with him. (He is oblivious to this.) At this point, it appears that the film is about to become a bedroom farce, but that never happens. In fact it becomes pretty much the exact opposite of that, and none of the characters has any sex at all.
What does happen is that everybody gets exactly what they actually want. Isabel is so self-centered that when she is at the hospital with Albert and he tells the doctor he is having heart pain, she assures the doctor that Albert is being metaphorical, when in fact Albert does have actual heart problems. Her husband is a perfect match for her, and what the both of them want is to be able to pretend they’re in love again. Cal eventually admits to her that he’s been an asshole, promises to do better in future, and the two of them are soon silently waltzing together in the street. Cal’s reformation won’t last long, and Isabel will need to find another way to turn his ego against him and regain his attention. Jennifer, the aforementioned across-the-street neighbour, also discovers that Cal is an asshole. (She has a major crush on him — or at least she thinks she does — and he ignores her completely.)
The highlight of the film is Hodge’s portrayal of Albert, which brings to mind Chaplin’s character The Tramp. Here’s how Chaplin described The Tramp: “He wears an air of romantic hunger, forever seeking romance, but his feet won’t let him.” It seems that Carr-Wiggin wrote the part that way, because THE BET and Chaplin’s short film THE TRAMP (1915) have very similar closing scenes.
Albert has a new job that he doesn’t hate. (He hated his previous boss.), his mother (who used to live with him, and drove him crazy) is dead and buried, and his doctor assures him that he is not dying anytime soon, so long as he takes care of himself. Albert might be a hapless fellow in the beginning, but he emerges from events better off than anybody else.
Natasha Little (Isabel) is Sarah Gresham in Howard Overman’s re-imagining of H.G. Wells’ War of the Worlds. The series is set in modern Europe. Astronomers detect a signal from another galaxy proving the existence of intelligent extra-terrestrial life, and days later, Earth is attacked, and humans are nearly wiped out. The series focuses on pockets of survivors forced to work together to try to figure out who the alien attackers are and why they want to destroy humanity.
Series star Gabriel Byrne, talking to Ben Croll of Variety, explained what’s different about this adaptation of Wells’ novel: “Whether you’re in Belgium, France, Ireland or Spain, you’re getting American culture, and with those films and series come American perspectives and values. That rarely happens the other way on a similar scale…But ‘War of the Worlds’ is a truly international story that involves human beings as opposed to stereotyped nationalities…and I think that’s the power of this kind of production. Europe has as much to say as America does.” A trailer is available on YouTube. WAR OF THE WORLDS will premiere on Fox TV UK on Thursday 5 March, and on Epix in the US on Sunday 16 February.
Douglas Hodge (Albert) will be General Velementov in THE GREAT, a series which details the rise to power of Catherine the Great and her relationship with her husband, the unpopular Czar Peter III of Russia. The show is being described as “anti-historical”. Elle Fanning, who stars as Catherine, told a Television Critics of America panel: “We pride ourselves on not being historically accurate, so there is room to experiment. You can look at so many oil paintings of someone, but they probably didn’t even look that way. So, it doesn’t help me so much as the script does with capturing the character that Tony [writer Tony McNamara] has created, her essence, and what’s her journey.” THE GREAT will premiere on Stan in Australia and on Hulu in the US on 15 May.