Mark Cunliffe 🇵🇸’s review published on Letterboxd:
This clever multi-strand drama was made by BBC4, back when they had a budget for original drama, to celebrate 100 years of the infamous publishing house, Mills & Boon - purveyor of low brow formulaic escapist romantic fiction for women.
And surprisingly good it is too.
The three stories are set in different time periods (the 1900s, the 1970s and the present day 00s) with the disparate strands tied together by the common theme of the publishing house itself. The 1900s storyline stars Daniel Mays as the founding Mr Boon, a cheery low class self made man who seems to struggle to understand the desires of his new bride Jodie Whittaker. It also goes on to detail the struggles of starting the business, finding their niche, and the hardships of the First World War. The 1970s segment stars Olivia Colman as a lonely wallflower who cares for her ailing mother played by Marcia Warren. Taking her into hospital for a hip operation, Colman stumbles upon the arrogant, brooding doctor - the archetypal male hero of Mills & Boon novels - played by Patrick Baladi. She falls hopelessly in love with him and is inspired to write her own romantic fiction based on her fantasy fuelled obsession. This is a delightful vignette which contrasts the realities of the NHS in the '70s with its romanticised Doctor Kildare trappings Mills and Boon propagated to the extent that it became a strong archetype of their literature. The final strand concerns Emilia Fox as a thirty-something lecturer teaching romantic literature, and Mills & Boon in particular, at a university. When one of her young students (OT Fagbenle) starts to flirt with her with some determination, she finds herself tempted away from her boring middle class husband and existence.
Each storyline is well played by an impressive cast who give real life to Emma Frost's knowing and intelligent script. Director Dan Zeff is a real master at this kind of thing too, having helmed the equally knowing and literary based Lost In Austen. Much fun is had with the perceptions of the standard Mills & Boon story and its tropes such as the accusations that their books have no literary merit and have grown to be little more than porn for the discerning reader, but equally they acknowledge how much of a success they are and explore what their place is in today's society and what we may learn from society as a result. Naturally there's also much tongue in cheek fun to be had with the M&B man - specifically in the daydreaming of Colman's character. The hero of these tales is always brutish, tall, dark and handsome, with an arrogance that makes him prowl like a tiger and initially wound or inspire feelings of contempt with the somewhat virginal and inexperienced heroine. He has a mutinous jaw, a rapacious, determined nature and an insight into what women really want - which always seems to be cupping their face, parting their pink rosebud lips and delivering The Kiss; a kiss to change the heroine's life and set them on course for the happiness they have always desired. There's always a happy ending, meaning romance remains in rude health.