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'Nolly' Recap: Episode 3

Daniel Hautzinger
Nolly sits in a restaurant with a white dress and white headscarf and looks into the distance with tears in her eyes
Nolly returns for a valedictory appearance on 'Crossroads' after her absence is felt. Credit: Quay Street Productions and Masterpiece

Nolly is available to stream. Recap the previous episode.
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Nolly was once acclaimed as Best Actress by TV Times so many times that she was inducted into a hall of fame so that the award could go to someone else – at least, that’s the rumor. Now she’s afraid she’ll disappoint everyone as she returns to the stage as Rose in Gypsy in a production in the small city of Leicester. She’s so out of shape for the choreography that she does fitness videos at home – although she sometimes ends up simply watching them with a drink and cigarette – and she struggles to give the director what he asks.

She also has to contend with everyone constantly asking her why she was fired from Crossroads; she doesn’t know the answer. She mostly manages to keep her irritation in check, and still indulges her fans, as at a restaurant with her former co-star Tony when she pays the bill of a woman who asks for her autograph – minus the wine, of course.

She tells Tony she no longer watches Crossroads, although of course she does. The ratings are down – cold comfort. She’s worried that she will be seen as a failure if her production of Gypsy doesn’t move to London’s West End, and she doesn’t think she has what it takes to be Rose, a role played by such heavyweight as Ethel Merman and Angela Lansbury.

When she turns down sympathy from Tony, he tries another tactic: snap her out of her wallowing by telling her that she’s a coward who’s determined to fail.

The cast of the musical has been eager to trawl Nolly’s personal life both for gossip and the performance, but she refuses to spill any details – leading them to gossip that she’s a lesbian, since she never married. After Tony’s blunt assessment, however, she finally opens up to them and decides to draw on her remarkable life in service of the musical.

She may have never married, she tells them, but she did give twenty years of her life to a man: Val Parnell, an impresario who founded ATV, the TV station on which Crossroads now runs. He was married, but he told his wife about Nolly and had them meet. The women agreed to accept each other; they both loved him.

He bought an apartment in the South of France for them to visit. There one night, he told them they were the two great loves of his life. The next day, he ran off with another woman, and Nolly never saw him again before his death a decade ago.

Nolly tells the young women of the cast that she, like them, thought she was too smart and independent to have her life ruined by a man in that way. But you’ll turn around one day and find your life taken from you, despite your best intentions, she says. That’s why she was fired from Crossroads – men smelled the hurt on her and knew they could take advantage.

Nolly gives her all in her performances as Rose and even pays a woman in the audience to start applause when she makes her first grand entrance, but the show won’t move to the West End, supposedly due to some contractual obligation – not that Nolly believes it. She finds out on Christmas: her birthday.

So she agrees to go on a tour of dinner theaters in Asia with the cast. They bring her to a strip club in Bangkok that is raided by the police, and she ends up in jail, laughing all the while. The woman from the British consulate who comes to free her used to work for ATV. Rather than ask Nolly why she was fired, she has the answer. She was in the meeting and heard everything.

Nolly writes down everything the woman tells her that ATV executive Charles Denton said about her to justify her firing. She brings her notes to a meeting with the Crossroads producer and writer Jack Barton, who wanted to meet with her when she returned to Birmingham. She cites all the words Charles used to describe her – bully, primadonna, difficult – and tells Jack that Charles barely interacted with her; those descriptions must have come from Jack.

Why didn’t you ever confront me and ask me to change, she asks him. He apologizes and admits it was unfair, and that her firing was sort of an accident: he was simply venting, and didn’t expect Charles, a new boss, to act on it. Old ATV executives never did anything.

And then he reveals the reason he wanted to meet with her: he wants her to return to Crossroads. He misses her.

Nolly says she’ll never work with him again. But then he reveals his plans: Tony’s character Adam and the daughter of Nolly’s character Meg are on their honeymoon in Venice when they – and the whole audience – are surprised to see Meg. They would film in actual Venice, not on a studio set.

Nolly is elated, not that she shows Jack. She dances joyfully at home.

On set in Venice, she greets the whole crew by name, asking about their lives. Jack outlines his vision for the scene: Tony has booked a special table in front of a window at a restaurant but finds a woman with her back to him sitting at it. He goes over to have a word, she turns around, and it’s Meg. Jack asks Nolly if she has any changes – but, for once, she says it’s all fine.

As the shot is being set up, she tells Tony she was fired because she was a good story. She reminisces about the men who wanted to marry her over the course of her life – but only if she gave up her own career and ambitions. Out of all of them, I love you, she tells Tony.

She and he are the only ones who know that she has cancer, with only a few years left to live. He came to her hospital room to see her after it was diagnosed, putting a bright face on things until he left and sobbed in the hallway. She will die two years later, in 1985; Crossroads will end in 1987.

But, for now, she has this meaningful return to the show that made her beloved. She holds back tears; they film the shot.

Jack welcomes her back on behalf of everyone. They all applaud.