TV Review: The Norman Conquests

Every once in awhile, I will be watching a movie or a television show when out of nowhere I am wowed. It is very rare and very sudden. What am I wowed by? A performance! In The Norman Conquests (based on the plays by Alan Ayckbourn), there is a scene in the first episode (out of three) in which Norman is at the breakfast table, quite unwanted, and proceeds to whine and banter, effectively annoying his brother and sisters-in law until they abandon the room. It may not sound like a great accomplishment in acting, but for the first time in a long time I thought, "Now that is acting." Really, it is so uncommon for me to be truly impressed by a performance that I have to relish this one. That's not to say that if you watch it you will have the same reaction, but I had to mention it.


The Norman Conquests is about six people who stay in the same house over the course of one weekend. First there is Annie, who lives there with her useless, bed-ridden mother. Her brother Reg and his wife Sarah show up. Then her brother-in-law Norman...and his wife, Ruth...and her daft next door neighbor Tom.

The drama/comedy begins when Sarah, the interfering sister-in-law, tries to help Annie with her love life. She wants to set her up with Tom, and thinks they are in love with each other. But Annie has a confession to make. She's seeing Norman! Yes, he is her sister's husband, but that didn't stop them from planning to go away together that weekend or from them doing something naughty on the brown rug over Christmas.

So now Annie and Norman's plans of going away discreetly have been ruined. Worse, everyone knows about it. Well, it's not always clear whether Tom knows. He is in love with Annie, but he's so dumb that almost everything goes right over his head. Reg doesn't seem all the bothered that his sister is having an affair with his other sister's husband. Actually, he gets a laugh out of it. And even Ruth doesn't seem all that perturbed that her husband has been unfaithful. The only one who is honestly upset is Sarah. She is so sensitive and nervous and bossy that she just about goes to pieces.

There's a great cast here. Tom Conti (Norman), Richard Briers (Reg), Penelope Keith (Sarah), Penelope Wilton (Annie), Fiona Walker (Ruth), and David Troughton (Tom). I grew up with Briers, Keith, and Wilton especially, so I loved seeing them in this.

It is at times slow and dull, but with bursts of entertainment. Once you get past the boring parts it's a good watch. As I said, there are three episodes, and it's designed so that you can watch them in any order you want. No really, that's what is says on the back. But I don't agree with that. If I had watched episode 2 first, I would have been lost and confused, and the same goes for episode 3. So I suggest watching it in the order it comes in.

My grade: B