Tuesday, 22 January 2008
Nothing to hold a Candleford to...
BBC i-player really is a wonder. I don't know if it's available to people outside of the UK, but it is rather ironic that the only channels which benefit from my television licence payment are also the only channels I can watch without having a television.
I have just caught up on Episode 2 of Lark Rise To Candleford. Now, throughout my book buying career there have been two books which have followed me around everywhere. Put down the 'phone, I'm not a shilling short of a pound, let me explain. In nigh on every bookshop or charity shop I go, these books are there. Such is their ubiquity that I have stubbornly refused to either purchase or read the books. Just a natural perverseness (perversion seems such a horrible word) and being-difficult-ness. Those two books are South Riding by Winifred Holtby, and Lark Rise To Candleford by Flora Thompson. I had no idea either had anything of a following, and so was surprised to see the latter on the BBC schedules.
Perhaps they're grabbing anything in sight? As has been noted by a lot of people, including Elaine quite recently, the BBC are doing bucketloads of costume drama, and casting the same half dozen people in all of 'em. If you include the other channels, we've recently had Cranford, Sense and Sensibility, Mansfield Park, Northanger Abbey, Persuasion, Oliver Twist, Old Curiosity Shop, Ballet Shoes and probably a few more I can't remember. I love a costume drama, but perhaps too much of a good thing? Well, perhaps not. If it's done well, there's always room for more - so long as television producers realise a few bonnets and "thee"s thrown hither and thither don't amount to character, writing or plot. Sometimes they make the mistake of believing a period setting will excuse deficiencies in every other part of a production - though usually the vague glimmers of a novel, beneath an adaptation, are enough to save a series. Novel writers just seem much better at all aspects of writing than scriptwriters. Which makes me wonder - why do we so rarely get period productions which aren't adaptations? I can't think of any.
Having not read Lark Rise to Candleford I can't judge on how faithful the BBC's version has been thus far, though I would wager not very, since Flora Thompson was writing autobiographically and the events have been pretty far-fetched. I'm firmly in the camp that an adaptation should be as close as possible to the original, and certainly not add or change things, but perhaps exaggeration and extension is the order of the day. Like most BBC costume dramas, it is the combination of background novel and foreground cast which make desirable watching - for Lark Rise To Candleford step forward Julia Sawalha, Linda Bassett, Liz Smith and Dawn French. I wonder if the lovely Julia, whom I first encountered as Lydia Bennett, has ever acted without a bonnet...
Anyway, it's been enjoyable watching, but not ground-breaking - but has pointed me in the direction of the book. Will I succumb the next time I come across it? Maybe. But I certainly shan't buy a TV tie-in edition.
Anyone else been watching this? Or have you had a surfeit of costume drama?