When we think of British actress Glenda Jackson, the types of films she did that come to mind first are serious dramas, such as Sunday, Bloody Sunday and Women in Love. Or, we remember her superb performances as Queen Elizabeth I in the TV series Elizabeth R and Mary, Queen of Scots.
She received her first Academy Award for the drama Women in Love, but won her second Best Actress award for the romantic comedy A Touch of Class. The film is a superb showcase for her comedic talents.
Recently divorced Vickie Allessio (Jackson) meets married American Steven Blackburn (George Segal) by chance one day in the park. They meet again while hailing the same taxi and agree to share it. They meet for tea and then for lunch. Vickie is not interested in what Steven appears to be interested in, a “quickie” while his wife is out of town. However, she is open to a weekend in a sunny clime with Steven.
Instead, Steven proposes a week in Spain. Everything that can go wrong does go wrong, including Steven meeting a friend (Paul Sorvino) at the airport, who wants to share his rental car. While Vickie looks on, Steven agrees to take a much worse and smaller car. Unschooled in driving a stick shift, Steven drives the sputtering car to their Costa del Sol hotel.
At the hotel, there are various mix-ups about their room, and they are forced to drag their luggage around. Finally settling in a room, their first attempt at making love ends up with Steven’s back going out. When that is resolved and they finally do the deed, Steven is crushed and infuriated by Vickie’s assertion that it wasn’t all that.
Stuck with each other, the tension builds until they end up having a knock-down, drag-out fight. They end up laughing at their own absurdity, and make love again. Apparently, this time it’s all that and they stay for the week. By the end of it they regret their time together is over.
At first determined to leave the affair in Spain, they find they can’t do that. They set up a lover’s nest in a remote area of London and meet whenever they can. There are various mishaps as Steven must try to hide his affair from his wife Gloria (Hildegard Neil). At one point he pretends he’s going out to walk the dog and must dash back to the apartment when he forgets it.
Over time, it becomes obvious to both Steven and Vickie that they are in love. Unwilling to break up Steven’s family, they part for good.
The storyline sounds sad, even bittersweet (there’s one point where Steven and Vickie sob uncontrollably while watching Brief Encounter), but this is mostly a frenzied comedy, with snappy dialogue and frantic mishaps.
Jackson plays a character that is obviously meant to echo the kind Katharine Hepburn played: smart, independent, acerbic, talented, with a dash of kookiness thrown in. She is a clothing designer, but one that steals from other designers to provide cheap knock-offs. Steven seems to care for his wife but sees nothing wrong with stepping out on her occasionally. In fact, Vickie does not seem very concerned with the feelings of Steven’s wife. (It was the early 1970s; I guess this was considered a modern attitude then.)
There is plenty of chemistry between Jackson and Segal—her dry, British wit and his frenetic American energy play off each other successfully most of the time. The role of Steven was originally offered to Cary Grant, who was retired from movies at the time. He eventually declined to come out of retirement. Though Segal did not win the Academy Award, he did take home the Golden Globe for the role.
Co-screenwriter/director Melvin Frank had not initially thought of Jackson for the role of Vickie until he saw her on a TV comedy sketch. Realizing she was also talented at comedy, he offered her the part.
After she won the Academy Award, Frank sent her a telegram: “Stick with us and we will get you another one.”
She never got another one (perhaps because she eventually retired from acting to enter politics), but certainly deserved it for this one.