Now before some of you scoff and choose to ignore this weeks entry put aside your prejudices and open your mind to the wonderful world of period drama. Many people label it as a slow genre, a world meant for the elderly, senile or utterly lonely. I hope I fit into none of these categories (although lonely could be slightly true).
To be clear these are all mini series (not movies or ongoing shows). Mini series are one of my favourite genres because character development is so well portrayed and production value is amazing! Spend a day at home curled up under the warmth of a blanket some comfort food and a cup of tea - you have got one happy camper.
A mini series only consists of about 3 to no more than 20 episodes – this is my own definition but in essence it is a series that has a planned and limited number of episodes with a defined and complete end.
What people don’t realise is that a period drama is like any other drama. It has main characters with flaws, a plot line containing love triangles, war, scandal, betrayal, action, suspense with an ultimate conclusion. The following are all wonderful adaptations of classic novels. So check these gems out:
1. Pride and Prejudice (BBC 1995)
I’m not sure what my life would be without this mini series. Firstly, credit goes to writer Andrew Davies for providing audiences with the truest adaptation of a novel I have ever seen. Davies is my God when it comes to period drama screenplays because he understands the need to display the original author’s work. Much of this series is word for word Austen’s prose and it is this which makes it perfection. The casting is just right (although Jane Bennet isn’t exactly the picture of beauty) but Colin Firth and Jennifer Ehle make up for her horse like face and rather annoying mannerisms. I sit down for this 6 hour epic once a year and it never fails to cheer me up. Each viewing I discover something new and each time emotions are riot. The look of Mr Darcy’s face as he admires Lizzy is to die for. The famous lake scene redefined the words “wet white shirt” and the addictive soundtrack sews it all together. P&P is the ideal introduction to the world of the mini series and the magic that is Colin Firth.
2. North and South (BBC 2004)
Need I say anything? Dress Richard Armitage in period costume acting out this wonderful example of a man (Mr John Thornton) and you have got yourself one hell of a period drama. You could make parallels with this and P&P for days but what I love about this series is the passion and confrontation.
The flaw is the heroine Miss Margaret Hale played by Daniela Denby-Ashe – I feel she does not do Gaskell’s original character justice and she just comes across as ungrateful and constantly annoyed. Maybe I’m just jealous of her but she lacks the strength of Margaret and you are left feeling Mr Thornton could do so much better.
This has an untouchable conclusion. It ranks as my favourite ending to anything! This scene was never actually in the book but it makes it so much more romantic and for that I approve. No spoilers here, but I'll paint the picture – an old steam train, a fateful encounter, a romantic speech and an undeniably beautiful embrace.
3. Cranford (BBC 2007 and 2009)
The great Dame Judi Dench - oh how hard it is to fault her. This is more typical old lady viewing material but it has a charm about it. I found the sub plots extremely engaging and the ensemble cast had magnificent chemistry. My favourite relationship is between a young boy and a man (no; get your head out of the gutters). This is one of fatherly love, a man who wants the best for an unrelated boy yearning for an education; a boy defying class divide. What keeps this so engaging is the turn of the century feel. You are placed in a world of change, a small town being effected by the growth of the world, the evolution of human construction and intellect. Be prepared to cry, laugh and be left wondering how much we as a race have changed.
It was so popular the show returned in 2009 for an extra 2 episodes with a summary that leaves you complete.
4. The Forsyte Saga (ITV 2002)
Here is one for the history books. I thought watching 6 hours straight of Pride and Prejudice was a little crazy. Try 11 episodes straight – that is 660 minutes of little movement, hardly any sleep and minimal toilet breaks. Do the maths, I started episode 1 at 4pm…
They aren't lying when the say “saga”. You go on a whirlwind journey following three generations of a rather scandalous family. It was a shock to the system when I saw it was an ITV production as life for me without BBC would be a nightmare. But this is a drama with all the plot lines. A very flawed man, a cheating wife, a family feud, forbidden romances, unforeseen deaths, forgiveness and acceptance – every minute of this captures your attention.
The final credits role and you are emotionally drained you have been angry, sympathetic, joyous and finally you understand the character's actions and your anger subsides and you see how true they have portrayed the human condition.
5. Little Dorrit (BBC 2008)
A Charles Dickens mini series is really rather perfect for me. I am someone who strives to be one of those snobbish people who can say they have read all those “must read” books but I struggle in reality. There are so many classics sitting in the “to read” pile but I can never seem to get through them. Mr Dickens is one such author. His character development is complex and his books so terribly slow and detailed. So yes I am sadly to some extent one of those people who believe watching an adaptation means you have read the book. For the case of Little Dorrit it is actually fairly true.
Again the magic of Andrew Davies is clearly the foundation to its’ success.
Darker than I usually enjoy (but that is what you get with Dickens) yet I enjoyed it from beginning to end. Matthew MacFadyen is wonderful as the ultimate good man and set design is true to BBC greatness.
Are you shocked this Jane Austen fanatic only has one of her many adapted screen plays? Well I certainly am. You see, they are beautiful in their own right – especially the recent Persuasion but unfortunately that final kiss is just horrendous. Seriously, as much as I love Captain Wentworth and Anne’s relationship this final scene is stretched way too far. I rank it as most awkward lead up to a kiss ever! Similarly Sense and Sensibility was well written (by Mr Davies naturally) but it didn’t really stay with me as much.
Sadly Downton Abbey and Lark Rise to Candleford don’t qualify as they have multiple series so I might touch on them in the distant future.
Share your favourite mini series, your least favourite and whatever else!
Next week we look at my favourite Australian retail shops.
Also, just a shout out that I’m trying to blog once a week so watch this space!