From a rape case to a divorce, Rumpole’s still in the he said-she said arena, but this time his client is the wife; her husband hasn’t spoken to her in three years – they do all their communication via passive-aggressive notes. This is easily the most comical episode of the first season. There’s even a subplot where Hilda, Rumpole’s wife, suspects that he’s having an affair with his client. And then there’s a marvelous scene when Rumpole discovers that one of his oldest friends is arguing for the husband in the divorce case and the two lawyers squabble over the case like an old married couple. Moray Watson is a delight as George Frobisher, the rival lawyer; this scene is just two old veteran actors working a time tested comedic rhythm and it’s wonderful. This episode also introduces Patricia Hodge as Phyllida Trant; she’s the newest lawyer at the firm and the old-fashioned Rumpole isn’t sure what he thinks about a *gasp* woman being a lawyer. The episode doesn’t shy away from letting Rumpole be very unlikable; he treats Trant quite horribly in the first half of the episode, but the way their relationship grows over the running time is one of the pleasures of the episode. And then there’s a surprising twist at the end that I only saw coming at the last possible moment. This one is very different in tone, especially from the previous episode, Rumpole & the Honourable Member which was easily the darkest episode of the first season, but maybe it makes sense in some ways to put the darkest episode and the funniest episode right next to each other. Regardless, this is just layered, character-based writing; both the comedy and the drama flow naturally out of the excellent characters and enough praise really can’t be given to John Mortimer, the writer of the entire first season. This one is obviously about the perils of male-female relationships, though it’s significantly less perilous than it was last time. If The Honourable Member was about the traps and deceptions of male and female relationships, The Married Lady is about the foibles and mistakes that wound but leave no lasting mark. In The Married Lady, there’s always hope and the sting of relationship mistakes fade. This episode is certainly funny. It’s not quite as certain whether it’s surprisingly touching or unutterably bleak. There are those layers again. And ultimately, in the tradition of marriages everywhere, it’s probably both. 4 stars.
tl;dr – another masterpiece from this series; it’s the most comic episode of season one, but it has the same layered themes and characters we’ve come to expect.