Bon­nets aplenty in a sleepy vil­lage idyll

The Weekend Australian - Review - - Tv -

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.

Graeme Blundell

Classy pack­age: Ju­lia Sawalha as Dor­cas Lane in Lark Rise to Can­dle­ford

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