Hey, these Brits seem to know about acting

On one level, "Girlfriends" is kind of brash and soapy; on another, it has gifted British actors, bringing these flawed-and-interestinng characters to life. It's one example of why people like to catch British shows via PBS or streaming. Now "Girlfriends" reaches Acorn on Monday (Jan. 29); here's the story I sent to papers:

By Mike Hughes

We've always
suspected that the British are better at some things – playing
cricket and croquet ... using long words ... remembering World War
II ... and, especially, acting.

That last part is
clear to PBS viewers, but now there's more: Two streaming services –
Acorn and Britbox – deliver the rest of the British shows ...
which, it turns out, are skillfully acted.

The latest example
is the six-part “Girlfriends,” via Acorn. It's written and
directed by Kay Mellor, who has been making British TV series for 27

“It was her
passion project, she always says,” said Phyllis Logan.. “And the
commissioners at ITV (network) let her do it, because of her track

Mellor created three
women who were in a long-ago singing group, split into wildly
different lives ... then re-united after a tragedy. More crises
follow, in a show that veers perilously close to soap opera, rescued
by the skill of its stars:

-- Miranda
Richardson, who got her Oscar nominations (“Damage,” “Tom &
Viv”) more than 20 years ago. She plays Sue, the flashy one. “She's
driven; she's single-minded .... She loses just about everything in
the first episode, but then she regains two girlfriends,”
Richardson said.

-- Zoe Wanamaker.
She plays Gail, the sad one – working as a crossing guard and
claiming that her son is back from Indonesia, not prison.

-- Logan. She plays
Linda, who was doing fine until the perplexing tragedy struck.

PBS viewers have
seen Wanamaker in lots of one-shot roles ... and Logan as the earnest
Mrs. Hughes, head of the abbey's housekeeping staff. “I never
planned that I was going to be doing six years of 'Downton Abbey,'”
she said. “None of us did.”

And that's one
reason they're so good at this. Americans might get tied into an
unchanging character; the British juggle tiny seasons (“Girlfriends”
has six episodes) on TV, plus movies, theater and more.

That's a tradition
that starts with repertory theaters, leaping between shows.

“You played
several characters throughout the season,” Logan said. “Old
grannies, young blokes .... I used to play a series of Shakespearean
youths with penciled mustaches and stuff. That was all part of the
deal, that you just have an array of different characters and
different jobs.”

Eventually, the
Brits get noticed by Americans – as evidenced by others in
“Girlfriends”: Matthew Lewis played the heroic Neville Longbottom
in Harry Potter movies; Anthony Head was propelled by coffee
commercials, before becoming the mentor of Buffy, the vampire-slayer.

Now they reverse
direction: Head plays Richardson's self-possessed boss and ex-lover;
Lewis plays Wanamaker's non-heroic son. “He's got a good soul, as
it were,” he said, “but ... he needs to grow up.”

He's a perpetual
screw-up who is liked by many people and loved by Logan's daughter
... played by Daisy Head, Anthony's daughter. It's a two-Headed,
multi-dimensioned, very British bunch.

-- “Girlfriends,”
six-part British drama. Episodes reach www.acorn.tv
on six Mondays, starting Jan. 29