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’?