TV on DVD: The Beiderbecke Connection (1988)

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Read Our Reviews of:
The Beiderbecke Tapes
The Beiderbecke Affair

“Probationary cohabs” Jill Swinburne (Barbara Flynn) and Trevor Chaplin (James Bolam) may not be able to agree on a name for their new baby they call “Firstborn,” but they can agree to help a political refugee named Ivan since he isn't too terrible. When Big Al and Little Norm arrive at the schoolteacher's doorstep as “two wise men” bearing a gift of an intercom to monitor the baby Jill wants to call Karl after Marx whereas Trevor prefers Edward for Duke Ellington, the couple are likewise asked for a gift in return.

Although Jill agrees to let Ivan shack up with them for the evening in their humble abode since it goes along with her mission to save Earth, Trevor needs a bit more persuading. But luckily Ivan's fate to crash there is sealed when it turns out he's not just a "jazz freak" but also a fan of Trevor's beloved Bix Beiderbecke. So while it's easy to become accustomed to their polite foreign guest, Jill and Trevor also learn that it's also hard to get rid of him in a series of hilarious misadventures as they fail to help the refugee cross the border, forgetting money for the toll only to discover Ivan back at their door night after night.

Similar to the previous two Beiderbecke made-for-ITV movies, the convoluted plot that involves several new dubiously eccentric characters, wild misunderstandings, and situations that always-- like “man walking on a road” that consistently remind our irresistible leads of another movie altogether-- take a backseat to the sheer enjoyment of the Beiderbecke trilogy.

Obviously a throwback to screwball jazz era films with a major acknowledged influence to Nick and Nora Charles at play in this late twentieth century Thin Man for a new generation, the series' mile a minute banter that can go from vaudevillian to Upstairs, Downstairs sophisticated
is also reminiscent to the same type that one can find penned by Woody Allen, Aaron Sorkin, Amy Sherman-Palladino, Neil Simon, and Whit Stillman.

Since music is language and, as Trevor shares, the only difference in the world between individuals is those who hear the music and those who don't, it's only fitting that this series is a language lover's delight. And much like the scribes I'd previously mentioned, Beiderbecke constantly reaffirms that you don't need to identify every one of mastermind Alan Plater's references to “hear the music” of Beiderbecke both literally in its BAFTA winning score and figuratively in its magical, heavily lyrical but always rhythmic dialogue you can laugh to instead of dance.

While all three entries in the trilogy have been marvelous in not only their use of comedy and Raymond Chandler level confusion that grows and grows until you realize you're just watching for the fun of it, like the other two, The Beiderbecke Connection runs about thirty minutes longer than it should as it seems to wrap itself up several times over. However, even with this one flaw, it's the best one of the three.

For its return, the series brings back some of the characters that populated Trevor and Jill's landscape in The Beiderbecke Tapes and Affair including their stuffy boss Mr. Wheeler who wishes that the couple would just conform and marry each other already. But
irregardless of its visual age, Connection also feels timely by today's standards in making the major subplot of the film all about the budgetary shortage and desperate need for school supplies at their school.

With Trevor unable to teach woodworking minus the wood and Jill stuck trying to engage a classroom full of teenagers with less than a handful of their assigned reading in Thomas Hardy's Tess of the d'Urbervilles, some of the students take things into their own hands, going school shopping with sticky fingers rather than pounds.

Wrapping this plot into their increasingly wacky one involving not just Ivan but also another unexpected visitor from Jill's past, The Beiderbecke Connection ensures that while you're trying to register all the notes and the laughs as it soars through the scales set to the Beiderbecke style soundtrack sure to get in your head, you're also similarly drawn in by the message that the first step to saving the planet might be in saving our schools.

Complimenting the other two sets nicely as Connection arrives on two discs in a dark maroon colored box, while I'd recommend watching them and collecting all three in order, for fans who haven't seen the Beiderbeckes in ages, it's safe to just dive right back in since their infamous yellow car, the signature music, and the jokey exchanges flood back as soon as you press play.

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FTC Disclosure:
Per standard professional practice, I received a review copy of this title in order to evaluate it for my readers, which had no impact whatsoever on whether or not it received a favorable or unfavorable critique.