Bonnets aplenty in a sleepy village idyll
THIS year’s fabulous BBC series Cranford, adapted from Elizabeth Gaskell’s novels, from which Heidi Thomas crafted an exquisitely resonant story about bereavement and loss, hooked me into costume drama.
But the latest offering sees me shuffling back into the curmudgeonly bloke’s shed longing for some television crime action or maybe even a Friday Night Fight Night, where the boxers wear the names of used cardealers on their backs.
Adapted from the autobiographical novels by Flora Thompson, Lark Rise to Candleford is set at the end of the 19th century.
It is the story of two communities in a developing Oxfordshire. The small hamlet of Lark Rise sleepily holds on to the past; Candleford is the wealthier neighbouring market town where, as the locals say, ‘‘ people make something of their lives’’.
The 10- part adaptation centres on Laura ( busy Olivia Hallinan), the eldest daughter in the Timmins house, as she leaves the quieter life for work in the wealthier market town.
The hamlet folk, a collection of Victorian daguerreotypes, turn out in force to wave her off on her big adventure of living 13km away. ‘‘ Go and get rich, Laura,’’ they yell, waving their staffs. ‘‘ And don’t ever forget where you come from.’’
Laura’s cousin, postmistress Dorcas Lane ( even busier Julia Sawalha), takes the obliging newcomer under her wing and they soon become firm friends living companionably through the romances, rivalries and smallscale comedies of rural life.
Thompson’s books, it seems, are an elegy for the old village ways, with very little story but lots of little vignettes and observations. And this lack of narrative drive characterises this TV adaptation. The producers opt for a kind of episodic intensity, encouraging viewers to delight in the period detail rather than anticipate a final novelistic destination.
There’s also not much attitude here compared with Cranford, which was so hauntingly underlined with dark meanings and undercurrents. Here we are offered few subtextual pot shots at the belligerence and class enmity concealed behind polite manners or any tension created by poverty and social change.
But there are many gorgeous bonnets, a lot of female twittering, some nice music, many regional accents, fine acting ( though Dawn French is over the top, even by her standards, as a lolling drunken wench) and some atmospheric, contemporary- style photography. It’s a classy package, one of those love letters to a vanished corner of rural England, another British televisual brochure for wouldbe travellers
There is obviously a huge audience of women desperate for glimpses of a quieter past who are simply delighted to meander through some idyllic countryside on a journey to honesty, intimacy and hope. Oh, and a promise of true love to come.
Classy package: Julia Sawalha as Dorcas Lane in Lark Rise to Candleford