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 enoug
h 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?


  1. I watched the first episode and gave up. I read Lark Rise about 10 years ago and loved it. I saw it was coming on TV and purposely didn't re-read it after my disappointment over 'Cranford' but I can't believe the book is anything like the BBC version. As you wrote 'Novel writers just seem much better at all aspects of writing than scriptwriters' and I think from now on I'm not even going to look at any TV adaptations.

    I agree about the cast and Julia Sawalha was Saffy in 'Absolutely Fabulous' , no bonnet, just specs and a cardigan - what can I say an ab fab series!

  2. Same here : I saw the first episode and gave up, it's not that good, really. I guess I was expecting another Cranford :( I loved Julia Sawalha and Olivia Hallinan in it, though. It's too light for me.
    And to answer your question, NO, BBCPlayer does not work outside of the UK ( I live in France ), which is a shame, I had to watch it on YouTube :(

    And I'm not complaining, I love costume dramas, I wish we had more of them. I'd love to see some other books adapted, or even completely original screenplays.

  3. Please pick up South Riding next time, Simon. Only if it's the lovely Virago edition and not the horrible green hardback which put me off reading SR for many years. A wonderful story. Can't comment on Lark Rise as I also confuse it with Cider with Rosie and I haven't read either of them.

  4. I haven't read it either but am persisting in watching it even though it is not that great, IMO. Certainly not anywhere near up to S&S (despite my reservations about that), or Cranford, or Ballet Shoes. It all seems rather old fashioned and carboard-cut-out-ish a good deal of the time. But Julia Sawalha is wonderful, enough to keep me watching. She has matured into a really impressive actress and is more beautiful now than she ever was.

  5. I did Lark Rise for O level in the nineteen sixties and it's never left me.

  6. Sawalha was wonderful - and wonderfully funny - in AbFab and I find myself gently hooked by Larkrise ... not quite sure why, but perhaps simply because of its gentle pace.

    I have yet to try the wonders of BBCPlayer ... .

  7. Simon, you are cutting off your nose to spite your face by refusing to read South Riding - it's magnificent!

  8. I have been watching Lark Rise (thanks to the website-that-shall-not-be-named)...it is not much like the book, I'll say that for certain. And it doesn't hold a candle to Cranford. Having said that, I've found it entertaining and vastly preferable to much of what is on television in the US, so I'll probably keep watching.

  9. Lark Rise = a pleasant hour on Sunday evening! I read the book some years ago and can't remember any of the story lines - although I recall some brilliant descriptions of family life and the joys of the walk to and from school. I think the BBC made the cottages a little too picturesque and FAR too large. Families were squeezed into the cottages at Lark Rise and meals were frugal in the extreme - only Father got the meat in the 'stew'.
    Are we in danger of rewriting history?
    And DON'T buy SR until February Simon!

  10. I read Lark Rise over 20 years ago and had the pleasure of introducing it to my Grandma. We both loved it and I recall there was a resurgence of interest in the mid 1980s along with the Edwardian Country Diary...

    As for the TV series it is fine, well mostly. Whatever possessed the Beeb to cast Dawn French! Does anyone else find her screeching jarring?

  11. Is that last photo the actress who played Lydia Bennett? So strange to see her in a contemporary setting! I like costume dramas, actually, but sometimes I do feel the need to come up for air and live in the 21st century!

  12. I watch Larks Rise as good entertainment but it's not the book. I have read and own quite a bit of Thompson and the series is a hotchpotch but do read.'South Riding is a wonderful book albeit with an ending I'd rather have different. Winifred Holtby is another of those writers who deserves to be back in the forefront of our reading. Have noted with envy the time at which you write your blog. Oh the energy of the young.Next post i hope I can direct you to my nrew blog. D

  13. I find costume drama increasingly unbearable - it never opens a book up forme (almost never) and sometimes actively puts me off. The books which benefit most from TV are bad ones, like Agatha Christie, I'm increasingly puritanical - the text is the thing. I'll happy listen to a reading (not a dramatisation) on the iPod while travelling, but that's as far as I go!! But I do accept that many others disagree, and that such dramatisations pull in a lot of readers (at least, a lot of buyers) though I often wonder what happens when they find out that Darcy didn't leap in a pond and that no bodices get ripped!

  14. There was an interesting item on Winifred Holtby on Women's Hour a while back. It can be found by googling her name and BBC, and you can ' listen again'.


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