Curvy, comely Carry On star Hattie Jacques (played here by Ruth Jones) may have had a PG image, but behind the scenes she was a highly sexed adulteress. Though, perhaps this description (Wednesday 19 on BBC Four, at 9pm) is a tad simplistic and sharp. Because despite her obvious failings, the actress comes across as hugely likeable. That's no small accomplishment, considering that Jacques’ affair with a young used car salesman would end up with her living in a dysfunctional ménage a trois, then divorcing her husband (actor John Le Mesurier).
Writer Stephen Russell's portrayal of events, particularly the main players’ improbably calm emotional responses, may not be entirely accurate. But the writing on Hattie is so wonderful and the characters so well sculpted, it’s impossible to care about any factual discrepancies. Jacques, we learn, adored being surrounded by lively people and, though her marriage was a loving one, it was also quiet and lonely. Ultimately, the actress found the attention piled on her by another John (Being Human's ludicrously handsome Aidan Turner) irresistible.
Hattie, a 90-minute drama that feels half as long, depicts the classic love triangle as well as anything ever has, layering on the fear, desperation and ambivalence felt by everyone involved. You don’t doubt that Jacques adores both men and, though she makes selfish decisions, it’s not because she’s especially self-centred or unkind. But then, it’s impossible to hate Ruth Jones, so how much of our forgiveness is directed at her portrayal rather than the real Jacques isn’t clear.
Throughout Hattie, I was poised for at least one volcanic, teary showdown, but it never arrived. Unusually for a biographical piece, especially one about an actor, the histrionics and soapy exchanges are barely there. Instead there’s warmth, wit and lashings of alluring complexity.
Jacques’ husband John (Robert Bathurst), is a lovely man and devoted spouse who prefers denial and just rubbing along to conflict. Watching him so very slowly and sweetly climb down from his denial is heartbreaking. John II, meanwhile, wants to be alpha male--not the auxiliary stuffed in the lodger’s room. So he insists that hubby is ordered out of the bedroom. It’s at this point that you’ll want to scream at husband John--probably something about growing a pair. But he never does and, ultimately, you’ll love him all the more for it.