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Friday, 18 January 2008

Gordon Ramsay Cookalong – Live, Channel 4

Did we like it?
This is how cooking should be on television – consigned to the battery farm of rigid instruction from a snarling, patronising host rather than allowed to spread its wings into the free range indulgence of celebrity cheffery, replete with futile, organic self-aggrandizing campaigns for social change. And, more remarkably, Chris Moyles was tolerable until he relapsed to ogrish type.

What was good about it?
• The frenetic pace of Ramsay simply doing what he does best by cooking in the kitchen was both entertaining and educational. If we’d had an inclination to join in, we feel that even we could have cooked up some scallops, steak, chips and chocolate mousse.
• The practice of catching up with various cooks dotted around the country on a webcam was a good idea in theory, and in some instances it even was successful.
• Because he had to concentrate on copying what Ramsay was doing Chris Moyles, was a tolerable presence, acting the goat by using the wrong pan for his olive oil or devouring the chocolate instead of using it in the mousse.
• Alan Carr’s Thai recipe vanquishing Ramsay’s doppelganger meal 4-1 as voted for by the ‘blind tasters’. Sadly for all lovers of natural justice, Ramsay beat Max Beesely 4-1 and Mica Paris 5-0 in the latter two ‘cook-offs’.
• Ramsay being silenced to rare humility when he barked at Max Beeseley: “How many women have you slept with?” “How many women have you fingered?” retorted Beeseley.

What was bad about it?
• While many elements were evidently impromptu and improvised on the spot, some parts of the show were clearly rehearsed and scripted beforehand. And, as we’ve seen on Extras, Gordon Ramsay rivals ex-footballer Bryan Robson and ex-Celebrity Fat Club judge Ann Widdecombe as the worst actor ever to appear on British TV.
• Here, he was prepped to make some crass quips to naturist Barbara who was joining in on a webcam: “Put a pinny on, I don’t want to see your new minge.”; “Shave these chives. I said chives, Barbara. The last thing we need to shave live is your ninny.”; “Barbara! You obviously don’t like dressing, do you?”; “Barbara! Show me your chips! I said your chips not your tits!”
• A mobile phone goes off in the studio. “Who the hell is that!” fumes Gordon in his wretched wrathful panto rage. Oh look, the offending phone has been left within Gordon’s reach, and, what luck, there also happens to be a camera focused on it. It’s Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall, gulping down the last few breathes of before his oxygen supply of fame siphoned from Gordon and Jamie Oliver runs out, warning Gordon that he must make sure that all his chicken produce is free range. It’s a good job Gordon had earlier memorised the soulless press release vernacular – “I’ve never ever, ever used anything but free range!” – Sainthood surely beckons.
• The audience gathered round the celebrity elite table possessed the kind of brainless skull cavities that, had they been shut down in the mid-80s for a paucity of cerebral activity, would have caused no semblance of social insurrection amongst those mining them for the sparse nuggets of intellectual worth.
• During one of the ad breaks there was a commercial for Newton Faulkner’s album on which he makes a fine mess of songs originally performed by people with infinitely more talent than him, though he’s enhanced by the sales hook of a beard and that looks to be trying really, really hard.
• The rolling pin becomes a phallic joke. We’re not sure if this rolling pin was chosen for a puerile interlude between Moyles and Ramsay, or if it was the hyperactive moronic mind of Moyles simply acting on the spur of the moment.
• And the infantile quips become a torrential substitute for the genuine wit, which Ramsay showed he is cripplingly bereft of on Have I Got News For You. “Small knob of butter” invokes mirth from Moyles; Ramsay to a camp guest on the elite dinner table, “Alan, a big fan of pink meat?”; and Moyles to Ramsay, “Can I just say your wife just enjoyed my meat!”
• Moyles’ cruel remark to a good-natured woman on a webcam, “Don’t you think she looks like a fat Delia Smith?”
• Ramsay slapped his right hand into the open palm of his left hand about 30 times.
• In Ramsay’s challenge against three guests, the ‘blind tasters’ were the sort of human bile disgorged by the shift in food programmes from showing people how to cook to transforming chefs into the 21st century versions of Da Vinci, Tolstoy and Lennon. “Good colours!” offered one pointless specimen. “Lovely presentation, isn’t it?” offered another unaware that food is for putting in the mouth rather than being clinically assessed like a sick zoo animal about to be put to sleep. “I like the texture!” offered a third, providing damning proof that people who go to posh restaurants – namely The Ivy – should, on finishing their meal, detach and hammer their tongues to the ceiling above their table so they are incapable of infecting the rest of society with their inane banter.

Wednesday, 16 January 2008

Torchwood, BBC2

Series two
Did we like it?
After a first series that oscillated between piquant grizzled sci-fi banquets and wading knee-deep through the slurried sewers of rancid drama, we’re not going to laud this with any definitive sense of joy, but this opener was very, very good and noticeably much slicker and better paced than what has come before. Some problems, however, haven’t been ironed out.

What was good about it?
• The best thing about the story was Captain John Hart (James Marsters) who, even though he played a cold-blooded murderer, was much like Tom Hardy’s showing as Bill Sikes in the recent adaptation of Oliver Twist – an alluring and magnetic screen presence.
• He started by dropping a mugger to his splattery death from the top of a car park, and managed to do so with both grace and élan, before trying to clear a cattle market nightclub of its less desirable denizens.
• But the most gripping scenes were those when he and Jack jousted. We can even forgive the nightclub-wrecking fight they had for no obvious reason at all (other than to have a snog after making up). On their past careers as time agents, Jack protested, “I worked my way up through the ranks!” to which John retorted, “I bet the ranks were very grateful.” And then John mocked the slightly puerile “team name” of Torchwood.
• While as Jack accompanied John through the street level entrance to the Torchwood base Jack informed his former comrade, “This is the entrance for tourists.” “I can remember the last time you said that,” quipped John. All quite end-of-the-pier stuff, but made funny by the precise, sarcastic timbre of Marsters’ delivery.
• However, the best line was near the end after John had been captured and was being forced into a villain’s exposition: “Open it!” demanded the resurrected Jack about the device they had been searching for. “Not even a ‘please’? Don’t your manners get brought back to life, too?”
• But Marsters’ real achievement was giving enough depth to Captain John’s character, despite him being as ostensibly profound as T4’s Steve Jones, to disclose that finding the diamond might not be the true reason for asking Jack for help. As he bumped off the Torchwood team one by one, he did so with the gruelling sadism of a psychotic, spurned yet compassionate lover; taking out his rage of Jack’s rejection on his former lover’s new ‘family’ and eventually ‘murdering’ Jack after a final rejection by pushing him from the top of an office block.
• Similarly Eve Myles managed to communicate Gwen Cooper’s affection for Jack by opting to go on the recovery mission with the dangerous Captain John not only, as she said, to glean more details about his true intentions, but also to grill him for secrets about Jack’s murky past.
• The alien blowfish playing The Prodigy remix of Method Man’s brilliant Release Yo’ Delf on his car stereo shortly before his execution became a convenient prop for Jack to announce his return to the fray.
• The obscure screen saver on the screens in the office visited by Jack and Ianto might be a clue for the new series of Doctor Who.

What was bad about it?
• Perhaps it was in order to devote as much screen time as possible to the enigmatic Captain John, but the plot was thin and superficial enough to model for Karl Lagerfeld – it even concerned the (futile) pursuit of a priceless diamond, the epitomising emblem of human worthlessness.
• Essentially, it was just a wild goose chase set by John to get his hands on the four parts of a device that would locate the diamond, only there was no diamond really as the assembled device transformed into a bomb that clamped on to his chest and threatened to explode. Another black hole in the plot was the need for a countdown, why wasn’t the bomb triggered to go off immediately?
• The overdose of salacious dialogue, which if injected into the bloodstream would ultimately cause plumes of enervating phallus-shaped black smoke to curl from the ears. The worst instance in this episode was the focus on the machismo bickering between Jack and John over the size of their time agent wrist straps – this adolescent adversarial scenario was fought out between both the Doctor and Jack and the Master and the Doctor over the size of the sonic screwdriver or equivalent in Doctor Who, and it wasn’t funny then.
• Instead of sprinkling the whole episode with this excremental seasoning, why not have a two minute feature of Jack rutting with an alien humanoid rhino to drain whoever is in charge’s needless obsession with light-hearted licentiousness without tainting the plot. Better still, why not exile such dialogue to an extra on the cataclysmically inevitable ‘DVD Box Set’ – the new unisex penis extension for simpering gimps – where acolytes of those legalised cardboard extortion in a box can play the gratuitous scenes to their heart’s content.
• Jack’s immortality. Dramatic music aspired to sweep you up like a frenzied tornado as John pushed Jack from the roof of the office, but any tension was killed about two-and-half years ago (or millions of years in the future) when Rose brought Jack back to life for a near eternity. Imperilling the other members of Torchwood is a facile substitute as while not every drama can be as expendable with their protagonists as say Blake’s 7, Taggart, Spooks or Cracker, there is always the threat that they might be killed whereas such a plot device is nullified here.
• You would imagine that there would have been some mention of the recent assassination of the US president by Mr Saxon in the previous series of Doctor Who, even if they had been sent abroad by Saxon on a fake mission.
• In Torchwood, nobody walks they either stride or run and do so with such bubbling machismo that it’s a surprise they don’t leave a sticky trail of testosterone in their wake.
• The sci-fi get-out clause of winding back time to before the relevant calamity when too much damage has been caused to the stable environment in which they reside was used yet again, slowly eroding even the distended credulity we reserve for silly sci-fi shows after such as device was employed in the last episode of the first series of Torchwood and the finale of the last series of Doctor Who.
Torchwood, BBC3, Sunday 22 October 2006
Did we like it?
The precocious offspring of an eccentric genius, showing inherited traits of wild imagination but still occasionally stumbling as it tries to toddle on its own two feet.

What was good about it?
• The first episode ticked off all the common elements of an opener as naïve policewoman Gwen Cooper (Eve Myles) was inducted into the shadowy Torchwood Institute (well, the Cardiff branch at least).
• And Gwen’s character was carefully written to show her as a menial policewoman, making the tea for superiors, while her boyfriend is the solid but dull type who is instantly disposable should she ever succumb to the aura of Captain Jack. And her compassion contrasts sharply with the Torchwood agents whom she recognises have lost some of their humanity by being shut away in a bunker with no lives outside of hunting down extra-terrestrials.
• Gwen’s presence also means that Torchwood’s boffins have to tone down their technical jargon to a level understandable to viewers who are au fait with “reversing the quantum flux generators”.
• The rest of Torchwood are balanced nicely, too. John Barrowman is effortlessly charismatic as Captain Jack Harkness and shows little sign that the burden of being a central role rather than a subsidiary has lessened his quixotic charm. Owen Harper (Burn Gorman) is the biological expert whose intemperate recklessness clashes with Gwen’s more staid pragmatism, while Toshiko Sato (Naoko Mori) seems to be a little bit plain but no doubt has some ludicrously fabricated backstory of how aliens killed her parents and she is thus motivated to understand them better.
• The lumbering hospital porter who was an obvious sacrificial lamb at the altar of shocking gore, as the Weevil tore out his throat.
• The sweeping panoramic shots of Cardiff that showed the more naturalistic coastal areas during the day and contrasted them with the bustling metropolis nocturnal vistas. The Cardiff tourist board will be as thankful as they were when a similar stunt was pulled for the first series of Doctor Who.
• A jagged streak of black humour runs delightfully along Torchwood’s spine. Sometimes it’s a bit corny, such as when the clubber was vaporised at the moment of sexual climax (“He came and went,” quipped Jack), and sometimes it’s a nudge and wink to the Carry On… films, shown when Carys seduced the men in the sperm donor waiting room, but it was always amusing nevertheless.

What was bad about it?
• An advantage of a family drama over an adult orientated one is that the scriptwriters are forced to concoct more ingenious ideas given the narrower parameters must work between. Torchwood seemed a little too determined to distance itself from Doctor Who and, in the same way a teenager sets out to spite and enrage their parents, and indulged in rather too much ‘mature content’ resulting in a rather lazy idea of a sex-crazed, possessed young woman.
• The Doctor Who universe was inserted with atypical clumsiness. As Gwen’s submersion in the world of Torchwood and aliens needed to be from the perspective essentially of a viewer untainted by knowledge of Daleks et al, all the evidence of alien presence in Doctor Who (the Cybermen and the Christmas Invasion) had to be summarily dismissed from Gwen’s psyche. And this was achieved through her boyfriend’s rather unconvincing explanation that both were induced by “mass hallucinations”.
• As with much sci-fi, many of the ideas were recycled (but as Doctor Who was the origin of most modern TV sci-fi, Torchwood may only be taking back what is rightfully its own). The sexual magnetism spray, for instance, was from Red Dwarf, and the whole concept of episode two of a gaseous alien possessing a teenager in order to suck out orgasmic energy from its victims was a direct pilfering of an Outer Limits story.
• Captain Jack not being able to die, as a consequence of Rose bringing him back to life in Doctor Who, is a very bad idea (unless he lost that ability when he breathed life into the possessed Carys).

Luke on TV - Wire in the Blood USA, Mistresses, Celeb Apprentice USA, Honest, American Gladiators, Moving Wallpaper/Echo Beach,. Jamie's Fowl Dinners


So, the first week of 2008. I was intrigued by how Moving Wallpaper/Echo Beach would work and looking forward to series such as Mistresses and Honest but, along the way, I was bombarded with sweaty men with long foam poles, Robson Green in Texas and Donald Trump yelling a lot.
My first grown up decision of the new year was to boycott E4’s Big Brother’s Celebrity Hijack. Channel 4 doesn’t even seem to have faith enough to put it on in primetime which doesn’t show much promise. What Channel 4 have put on instead, though, has been of interest, with Hugh Fearnley Whittingstall given three nights to squawking on about the chickens on his farm.
Surprisingly, ITV’s new line-up for this first part of 2008 has been strong. The return of News at 10 looks to give more structure to the schedule but it means the end of 90-minue dramas at nine. Squeezed in just before the Trevor and the bongs returned was a a special edition of Wire In The Blood (the sixth series is due later in the year) which saw Robson Green's odd psychologist Tony Hill travel to a very sweaty version of Texas to testify in the murder case of man convicted of brutally stabbing his beauty queen wife and their two children.

I’m not sure why this had to be set in America. It had all the qualities usually associated with a Bradfield-based Wire In The Blood script - brutal killings, suspicious characters around every corner and Hill clutching a plastic carrier bag. Texas itself seemed to live up to all its stereotypes. Everyone was dripping with sweat, there was a mysterious hard-to-understand ex-policeman with a collection of rattlesnakes and, just in case viewers were wondering why Manchester was going through such a dramatic heatwave, there was the occasional country music guitar soundtrack thrown in to remind us Tony had hopped on a plane. The American actors were very wooden and quite stereotypical but the story had enough twists and turns to keep my attention. The US setting didn’t really add to the story but it was nice to have some good drama for a Monday night.

BBC1’s latest offering, Mistresses, sounded like something I’d have to be wearing pink fluffy pyjamas to enjoy, but with the always-good-value Sarah Parish attached, how could I turn it down? I never got into Sex and the City (not my biggest regret), but I’d imagine this was a more classy version of that. It was very intriguing and the female cast was brilliant. I’ll definitely keep watching even though I can tell that the single woman is going end up in bed with the woman whose wedding she’s planning and that the creepy doctor from Bodies is maybe after Trudy for her newfound bank balance (a £2m cheque to compensate for the husband she lost on 9/11).
While the BBC offered well-written, well-acted and well-produced drama, the US is still in the depths of the writers' strike. This has basically attacked American television like that nasty new sickness and diarrhea bug, with reality shows leaking from every orifice.
The first significant dribble came in the form of The Celebrity Apprentice, which was about as false and over-dramatic as reality TV gets. Donald Trump oversees proceedings with “celebs” such as Piers Morgan, Lennox Lewis, Kiss frontman Gene Simmons and a plasticy looking former Playboy model trying to raise the most money for charity in boring and ridiculous challenges using their more famous celebrity famous pals. I only watched to see if Piers Morgan had been shot by any New Yorkers, but I when I realized how unlikely that was I gave up. American audiences seem to be losing patience, too, but with the writers outside holding their placards, NBC has nothing else.

ITV1’s new offering for Wednesday night was the drama Honest, a remake of a successful series from New Zealand, with Amanda Redman at the helm. I was a big fan of At Home With The Braithwaites and since this was billed as a crazy and slightly saucy new drama with the same star, I was already hoping they had just re-packaged the Braithwaites, but with the opening scene featuring triads and two dopey burglars, I knew I was in for a disappointment.
This first episode was really just a scene setter and although it was often too ridiculous to enjoy, certain members of the family are likeable enough and I think it could develop.

Meanwhile, NBC, still reeling from the failure of the Celebrity Apprentice, had another “great” television brainwave and resurrected that cheesy but bizarrely popular 1990’s series American Gladiators. It infuriates me that every new American reality series must have the word America or American in the title, and Wolf was a bit too scary. (By the way, this is the show where the sweaty men with long foam poles showed up)

ITV1's Moving Wallpaper/Echo Beach combination of soap and mockusoap left me bored, confused and annoyed. I’m open minded when it comes to my telly and I like the majority of the cast of Moving Wallpaper, but while some people really enjoyed it, I’m with the crowd who thought this was awful. I understand that Moving Wallpaper was the making of a soap but were we then supposed to take Echo Beach with its bland dialogue, wooden teenage acting and Jason Donovan seriously? If we were, then they failed miserably and if we weren’t, then it just wasn’t funny enough.

I’m quite enjoying the second series of BBC1's sitcom Jam & Jerusalem, but the highlights on Friday were Jamie’s Fowl Dinners on Channel 4 and the return of the Al Murray's Happy Hour on ITV1.

I was really impressed by Jamie's programme and the way it drummed its important message through. Although celebrity chefs are perhaps a little over-exposed nowadays, I do admire their passion and Jamie certainly taught me something in a programme that was touching, moving, informative and, at times, difficult to watch. This was proper reality television, maybe a little too real (but I tucked into a roast chicken the following night, so I guess I’m a big hypocrite). Channel 4 should be commended for a providing this food season and they get my first my CRUMBLETASTIC medal of 2008. My Black Pudding award for this week though is shared by Echo Beach and The Celebrity Apprentice.

Monday, 14 January 2008

The Palace, ITV1

Did we like it?
Not quite the rotten atrocity we had feared, and quite entertaining in parts, largely thanks to a cast who have been pressganged from a BBC political thriller and forced to star in this else they will be damned to an eternity of Holby City. But contained within almost all the characters is a fathomless void it would take Captain Kirk & Co far longer than five years to explore and even then the only scraps of life would be the odd, sporadic guttural scream.

What was good about it?
• Rather like with Sam Allardyce’s recent sacking at Newcastle – where it’s obvious that he is still a good manager despite an awful few months – the same confidence exists in the talent of the assembled cast despite the ropey production.
• Jane Asher can still crush souls when she narrows her eyes; John Shrapnel has competently played irascible politicians in modern classic movies; Roy Marsden has sneered down his nose with all the gravity of an Alpine avalanche; Lorcan Cranitch still jabs like Ali with his uncouth tongue; and Harriet Walter has an enigmatic smile that would make the Mona Lisa jealous – their unquestionable talent isn’t the problem here.
• Rupert Evans pumps some air into the moribund, deflating lungs of Prince/ King Richard as he struggles with the labours of being king: grappling with the endless formal meetings, the senseless traditions and the impossible task of living up to the public image of his father because of his decadent indiscretions with drink, drugs and sex. The face he pulled when he was being mauled by TV interviewer Joanna (Harriet Walter) more than anything else instilled his indelible noble artifice for all to see – it was an expression not born of human reaction but of 30 years of having etiquette hammered into your brain like nails and to become incapable of a spontaneous emotion – which made his subsequent tantrum at the end of the interview all the more gripping.
Sebastian Armesto peculiarly looks and sounds like a younger Charlie Brooker.

What was bad about it?
• We’ve said that Rupert Evans as Prince/ King Richard is impressive. But we can’t work out if this is because of his acting or because he, much like Will Smith in I Am Legend, is the last remaining human alive and the rest of the cast inert, sterile ciphers of their supposed respective doppelganger.
• Everyone else orbits Richard focusing all their attention on him, and each has absolutely no chance of changing their ways or seeking redemption. And this is the problem, rather than journeying alongside the characters – bar Richard – you can already see them far off in the distance at the finishing line waving to you with the same selfish expressions they have worn all their fictional lives.
• Whether it’s his conniving big sister Princess Eleanor, whose envy that the eldest son rather than eldest child should become monarch took root long before theses events, and as a consequence her face, beneath the desertscape make-up, bears a permanent twisted expression of a Chinese burn.
• The same goes for Eleanor’s equally conspiring aide Simon (David Harewood) who is jealous of Richard’s favoured aide Abigail (Zoë Telford), who in turn is plotting with a journalist to write an expose about life in the palace.
Richard’s brother George isn’t really a person, but more the man-sized manifestation of the apocryphal little devil that sits on your shoulder telling you to do bad things. He seems to drink more than Richard, treat the servants with more disdain than Richard and yet retains his brotherly affection.
• While Richard’s teenage sister Isabelle introduced herself by nattering on her mobile phone such phrases as “wicked” and “stressed out”, thus effectively separating her from her stuffy siblings yet it also tosses her on to the choking pyre of teenage homogeneity.
• The game of Chinese whispers that took place understairs after Jimmy glimpsed Richard and Miranda snogging on the throne. It stereotyped all the footmen and servants as camp Billy Talon clones aged 18-80, while the maids were a whirling gin-soaked dustcloud of foul-mouthed slappers, all of whom were all schooled in the Heat approach to gossip, i.e. build the nonsensical hearsay up so high that it scrapes along the undercarriage of Heaven’s wine cellar.
• For all the scripted scandal, there was also a definite air of timidity as if ITV was worried that the obvious parallels between the characters – Richard and ‘Wills’, George and Harry, Isabelle and Beatrice, Queen Charlotte and the late Princess Margaret – might somehow compromise and sully their relationship. And this meant that even the more serious of the plotlines such as George’s debauchery or Eleanor’s mendacity had a cartoon element about them.
Corpses move with more élan and grace than the people dancing in the nightclub, in fact corpses would blush crimson with the last few droplets of blood in their veins if they danced as badly as that lot.

City of Vice, Channel 4

Did we like it?
Yet another investigative police drama. But hang on, this is arguably the father of them all, as Channel 4 goes back to 18th century London and introduce us to the Fielding brothers. Blind John (Iain Glen) and – author of Tom Jones - Henry (Ian McDiarmid) decide to do something about the murder of prostitutes in squalid Covent Garden bathhouses and with a team of Bow Street Runners, commence their investigations. A great cast does their best against a gloomy backdrop, but it was very much hit and miss.
What was good about it?
• The 3-D street maps that zoomed us into the filthy streets of Covent Garden was a clever touch – immediately familiarising us with the geography of a place where all the streets looked alike.
• A drunk Henry offering John and the Runners a bet that with their new team assembled, London would be free of crime within five years. (This was 1753) Anyone who claimed in the mid-80s that Simon Cowell would be good for the development of music in the UK would have been nearer the mark.
• The thoroughly repellent Mr Harris – London’s leading pimp – and his book detailing the 400 whores in his employ and the ‘services’ they would offer, was a suitably squalid intro into the world of that time, and was later reputed to have sold 250,000 copies.
• There was the occasional (and welcome) introduction of humour, such as when a Doctor called out to examine the prostitute’s mutilated body complains that he was in the middle of supper. “So was I!” says Henry. “Clearly the man who did this has very little consideration for the comfort of others!”
• Henry’s methods for getting the fatally wounded prostitute to name her attacker were somewhat unorthodox - throwing a glass of water in her face, and shaking her violently. And she died before pointing the finger!

What was bad about it?
• Some of the scenes were very clunky indeed. After a conversation in Harris’s Tavern where they learn that a woman’s body has been found in Haddock’s Bagnio, Henry staggers to his feet and theatrically drops his wig onto his head, “The Bow Street Runners have their first case!”
• The burgeoning relationship between John and Harris’s chief whore - and one of his wives – Nancy, seemed very contrived.

Sunday, 13 January 2008

Lark Rise To Candleford, BBC1

Did we like it?
A well-acted drama that compensates for plots as weak as the bones of a calcium-deficient arthritic giraffe through skilful character interaction and conflict. However, we do feel we’re now saturated with quaint 19th century period dramas to the point where we can feel bonnet-flavoured bile on the back of our throats.

What was good about it?
• Pretty, pretty scenery – the primary goal of any quaint 19th century costume drama is authentic setting, which is achieved far easier in rural settings where juveniles can run round and round a lone tree beside verdant pastures, and even in more suburban dwellings, such as Candleford, a indefinable sense of feral ambience can be established by the simple assembly of gaggle of squawking geese.
• Confident starring role for Olivia Hallinan as the naïve, headstrong Laura who leaves the hamlet of Lark Rise to work in the post office in the bustling village of Candleford. She captured Laura’s sense of isolation and estrangement, and her distinctive frustration in the dispute over the cost of delivering telegrams to Lark Rise.
• Julia Sawalha as the considerate, inventive Dorcus, Laura’s cousin and boss, who was trapped between post office regulations and her own morals after one of Lark Rise’s residents couldn’t pay the telegram fee and was denied the chance to visit her ill brother before his death.
• Comedy is supplied by Mark Heap’s officious, God-fearing Thomas Brown, Liz Smith’s demented Zillah and Ruby (Victoria Hamilton) and Pearl (Matilda Ziegler) the conniving harridans who run Candleford’s clothes store.
• Also, Dawn French as the dissolute Caroline Arless, Ben Miles as the stoical but charismatic Sir Timothy Midwinter, Edward Coyle and Claudie Blakeley as Laura’s parents and Olivia Grant as Sir Timothy’s wife Lady Adelaide who shares Laura’s sense of alienation, only she has come from a busy city to the much slower pace of life in Candleford rather than the other way round.
• The excellent Paul Reynolds turned up as a brewery salesman leading us to think, that with the presence of Julia Sawalha, there might be a sub-plot of Press Gang 1887 with Dexter Fletcher arriving in Lark Rise as an American spiv with a heart of gold.

What was bad about it?
• Perhaps it’s over-familiarity with 19th century period dramas that has trained our ear in the vagaries of that era’s dialogue, but the language in Lark Rise… was markedly inferior to Sense & Sensibility, Cranford, The Old Curiosity Shop etc (it might also be the quality of the author), and at times was nail-bitingly annoying.
• As Laura departed Lark Rise for Candleford, she was waved off with a torrent of banal valedictories, “Don’t ever forget where you came from!” While at least three of the characters have a catchphrase that grates your patience: Dorcus quips: “Baths/food/etc are my one weakness!” Caroline’s is a variation on: “Life is for enjoying.” And the most vexing of all is Mr Paxton’s, “What’s right is right, and what’s wrong ain’t right!” It’s the dread repetition of these phrases that palls the quality of the rest of the discourse as they always reduce to dust any conversation they erupt into.
• While the evidently-suppressed affection between Dorcus and Sir Timothy was coyly expressed in that coquettish circumlocution particular to 20th century novels set in the 19th century: “Timothy, you’re looking at me in that disconcerting way of yours!”
• This first episode was centred on an infuriatingly trivial plot of whether Lark Rise’s residents should pay the post office tariff on telegram deliveries because it falls out of the eight-mile exclusion zone. It was artificially blown up into significance through Caroline’s squandering her money on booze and rich food and Queenie’s brother dying, with neither being able to afford the fee. All the while the disputes raged, Sir Timothy stood timidly by until he offered to adjudicate in the measurement of the distance between the two places. But as lord and master of the manor, why couldn’t he just agree to compensate the post office the meagre cost of each delivery himself as he seemed to be a ‘decent sort’?

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