A Russian ship docks in Liverpool, and two of the sailors, Peter (Peter Firth) and Sergei (Alfred Molina) look forward to their shore leave there, not knowing that tonight will be fateful, though for Peter more than Sergei. Meanwhile, unemployed Elaine Spencer (Alexandra Pigg) is meeting with her friend Tracy (Tracy Lea) to go out to a bar, though she can't spend too much as frankly she's skint. While they are sipping their beers Tracy becomes distracted by a girl she thinks has her eye on Tracy's man, but soon Teresa (Margi Clarke), finishing her shift at the chicken factory, arrives to take Elaine's mind off that...
And onto the possibilities of the evening, where thwarted romantic Elaine can have a chance to live out her dreams of being in a movie like Casblanca - well, she voices the preference of being in the city rather than the film, but we can tell what she's getting at. This unassuming little effort was released the same year as Revolution, the British would-be blockbuster which sank the industry, but showed the way forward for productions on a significantly lower budget with television backing. The result was the Al Pacino flick was a disaster, but here was a modest work which became what they would call a sleeper: few expected much from it, yet it did very well.
Internationally as well as domestically, it should be pointed out, with its positive if guarded message of defrosting Cold War tensions proving attractive to audiences across the globe. Not that this was under some pro-Communist illusions that the Soviet Union was a wonderland compared to Fatcher's Britain, but the point being made that Elaine was about as likely to have a decent life there than at home was hard to ignore. Before we reached that stage, there was the romance to spark such feelings, and that happened when she and Teresa went for a night on the town, first with Teresa's mother's wage packet, then with a pilfered wallet from a couple of overbearing Cypriot chancers.
That gives them the chance to go to a nightclub in the city where Elaine's gaze meets Peter's across a crowded dancefloor, and Teresa invites him and Sergei over, whereupon they get together for the evening. This ends up with Teresa and Sergei getting intimate for the evening in a hotel room, while Elaine and Peter spend the night chatting and falling deeply in love; they spend the next day with each other as well until the sailor has to return to his ship, but they exchange addresses and vow to meet again. Which offers up the central dilemma: does our heroine give up life in Liverpool for Russia? Is she really leaving anything worthwhile behind? In light of writer Frank Clarke's obvious affection for the people of his home city, this might not be as clear as you think.
Of course, Leonid Brezhnev was not in power in the Soviet Union in 1985, having died in '82, but his successors were dropping like flies in the following few years, so Clarke thought the title he had was better than Letter to Andropov or whatever. That indicates the romantic nature of the script, but also the grit, as he did not shy away from facing up to the problems British citizens away from the wealthier regions of the South East were going through, and if Elaine has found herself in her own movie like the ones she dreamed of but never thought would happen to her, there are plenty of elements wanting to drag her back down to earth. Although this could have come across as pretty contrived, earthy performances sold it, and wisely Clarke did not finish on a pat, all loose ends tied up note, preferring to leave it open to our imaginations as to whether Elaine did the right thing. As an example of low budget Britflicks of the eighties, this has a nostalgic quality now, closer to the fantasy of Casablanca perhaps. Music by Alan Gill.