Masterpiece Theatre: Interview Day

Program Description

Interview Day is a painful paean to anyone who's ever had children and watched them grow up, leave the nest, and make their own way in the world. The programs treats this simple life-passage with considerable humor and compassion in its single 90-minute presentation on PBS.

The whimsical saga, written by Jack Rosenthal, deals with three British families as they accompany their respective offspring to England's Cambridge University where each potential student is to be interviewed for admission. As often happens, the parents find it more difficult than the children to let go.

In a parallel story, Sir Alec Guinness plays James Poole, an elderly academic whose son Simon (James Fleet), one of the university interviewers, is trying to persuade his father to enter a retirement home. Determined not to go quietly or happily, the reluctant Poole senior visits the home with his son. What they see of the residents' drab life and even drabber surroundings proves the father right and the two walk away from the home together in a touching reconciliation.

The adventures of the three families in Interview Day result in a new understanding between parents and children as the parents grow to recognize their overly protective attitude is unnecessary. In a series of witty and entertaining scenes, the parents are taught the ultimate test of good parenting -- how to let go.

Most sympathetic of the families is the Whittles whose only son Neil (Benedict Sandiford) is a bright, attractive young man who already seems to know more than his proud parents. Mrs. Whittle, Shani (Maureen Lipman), is a supremely superstitious woman who blocks her family from walking under a ladder and lures a black cat away from their path in an effort to protect them from potential bad luck. Mr. Whittle, Bevis (David Ross), is a polite, caring middle-class Londoner, sympathetic to his wife's foibles and impressed with his son's intellect.

Hugh and Harriet Lloyd (Tom Wilkinson and Anna Carteret) are obviously more affluent than the Whittles. As important as the interview is for their daughter Pippa (Laura Howard), her parents are more concerned that she change into something they deem more presentable than her standard uniform of jeans and baggy sweater. Hugh Lloyd is a domineering loudmouth, constantly giving instructions to his wife and daughter until he receives his comeuppance after a revealing incident at the university.

The third family comprises a single mother, Mrs. Judd (Kathryn Pogson) and her bookwormish, slightly wimpy son Malcolm (Grant Warnock), who fears his mother's constant attention will embarrass him before his peers. He refuses to let her accompany him on interview day but she manages to sneak onto a bus and in a series of funny vignettes and near discoveries, trails him around the campus.

The Whittles and the Lloyds meet unexpectedly in a cafe prior to the interviews for their children. As they wait to meet their first examiner, Neil and Pippa strike up a friendship that carries them through the interview process and holds promise for future romance.

How the three students fare in Interview Day is not revealed during the program, but the sad/funny, awkward parting of the families is a rite of passage every parent and child his endured.

A Greenpoint Films Production for the BBC in association with WGBH Boston, Interview Day was produced by Ann Scott and directed by Piers Haggard with Tessa Ross as executive producer.

Masterpiece Theatre is produced for PBS by WGBH Boston, Rebecca Eaton is series executive producer. Pulitzer Prize-winning writer Russell Baker is host.

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