TV REVIEW : 'The Charmer': A Decadent Romp

The world loves a delicious scoundrel. "The Charmer," which begins a six-week run on "Masterpiece Theatre" Sunday (8 p.m. on Channels 50 and 24, 9 p.m. on Channels 28 and 15), is a suave romp of a diversion.

Nigel Havers plays a handsome ne'er-do-well finessing people out of their money and sporting around London's classy brothels on the eve of World War II. He's an awfully sociable chap.

In the maiden episode (which hints of murder in future segments), the entitled rogue cons and seduces a jolly, frumpy widow in the suburbs. He then takes up, after erotic necktie bondage on a couch, with a silken debutante who embodies all his depraved aspirations.

What swindling! What lusting! Havers is so devilishly decadent you root for him not to get caught. Old-time movie fans will forget George Sanders in a second.

Havers (who might be remembered for that charmingly supportive role in the film "Chariots of Fire," where he ran the high hurdles with a martini perched on the top of each hurdle) has his way in this episode. But a suspicious nemesis, who will grow more skeptical of our rogue in future shows, materializes in the form of a very proper realtor (the lovably nervous Bernard Hepton), who's not above a little libertinism himself.

Director Alan Gibson and scenarist Allan Prior, adapting characters created by Patrick Hamilton (who wrote "Gaslight" and "Rope"), conjure a subtly lascivious tone. The polished, underplayed style is distinctly British, in this case produced by London Weekend Television.

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