Love and the G8 Summit

By Frances Grant

The global economy and the sexually repressed Englishman made a bizarre mix in Saturday night's British drama about love and this year's G8 Summit, The Girl in the Cafe (TV One, 10pm).

Bob Geldof has had his go at saving the world with his Live 8 extravaganza; this one-off drama was the turn of Richard Curtis (otherwise known for such merry romps as Notting Hill and The Vicar of Dibley), to win hearts and minds to the cause of eradicating extreme poverty.

The timing of its screening here means the drama has, of course, been overtaken by events. The summit has been and gone, its outcomes largely overshadowed by the London bombings.

But you had to admire Curtis for his ambition: the telly drama which tries to broach global politics is a rare phenomena. We probably won't find the Desperate Housewives sitting around worrying about agricultural subsidies and indebted Third World countries in between bonking the gardener or plumber.

But wrapping these concerns in a cute, comedic love story packed with Curtis' trademark one-liners was always going to be hard to pull off. The result was a drama as wracked with confusion as its lead, the excruciatingly inept romantic, Lawrence (Bill Nighy). And setting the action in the snowy Icelandic capital Reykjavik made the whole thing - despite endearing performances from Nighy and Kelly Macdonald - seem rather stilted and chilly.

Perhaps it was because we last saw Nighy and Macdonald together playing fearless journalists in the sophisticated political thriller State of Play, that made this change of pace to the coy and politically earnest that much harder to swallow.

Lawrence was a civil servant, a workaholic adviser to the Chancellor of the Exchequer, who met the appealing Gina (Macdonald) over a cuppa in a cafe. A couple of dates later, he invited her to accompany him to the G8 summit. To his surprise she accepted but Gina proved an unknown quantity with an alarming penchant for berating his boss to do better in trying to reach an agreement on solving poverty.

Nighy milked his bashful Hugh Grant-type role for all it was worth, with enough stuttering, and other self-deprecating ticks and mannerisms, er, for Africa. Indeed, he turned self-effacement into something approaching a full-blown disability of the kind that requires special carparks and seats on buses.

Less convincing was Macdonald's Gina, a heart-on-her-sleeve ingenue, uneducated and a political innocent. Macdonald got the drama's most improbable scenes, including an eloquent, persuasive and impromptu speech to a gathering of the world's most powerful leaders, no less.

Still you had to hand it to Lawrence. The politicised Gina was his creation. It's not every man that woos his love with statistics about European Union farm subsidies of 12,000 a cow while 800 million people live on less than $1 a day.

The drama certainly made many worthy points about its cause, the self-interest of the rich and powerful countries and, as the Icelandic setting emphasised, the frustratingly glacial pace of such international negotiations. But its Hollywood-style, one-woman-can-change the world ending, was just too hard to buy.

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