Friday, December 30, 2011

Favorites of 2011: Television

John Everett Millais (Samuel Barnett), Dante Gabriel Rossetti (Aidan Turner),
and William Holman Hunt (Rafe Spall) walk through an exploding art gallery
in the "Heroes" promo for Desperate Romantics

This was our Year of the BBC Series. We saw so many excellent series that it's hard to pick out just a few as standouts; the general standard for acting, writing, directing, and production design was amazingly high. So my apologies for a list that's a bit overstuffed; the series are given in the order in which they were viewed:

Matty Jenkyns (Judi Dench) in Cranford
Cranford (2007) and Return to Cranford (2009): As the titles might suggest, these Heidi Thomas-scripted Elizabeth Gaskell adaptations focus on the inhabitants of the fictional town of Cranford, and the challenges to their traditions posed by new social, political and economic changes. Dame Judi Dench heads an ensemble cast of excellent British actors such as Imelda Staunton, Barbara Flynn, Claudie Blakely, Lesley Manville, Jim Carter, Michael Gambon, and the serenely radiant Julia Sawalha (I could hardly believe that Lydia Bennett in 1995 adaptation of Pride & Prejudice was created by the same actress, so different are the characters). Julia Sawalha is the reason we began watching Lark Rise To Candleford (see below).

Molly Gibson (Justine Waddell) in Wives and Daughters
Wives and Daughters (1999) is another Elizabeth Gaskell adaptation, this time written by Andrew Davies (who also wrote the screenplay for the 1995 Pride & Prejudice). It's centered on Molly Gibson (the ethereal Justine Waddell), a young woman who must deal with her unpleasant new stepmother (Francesca Annis) and her beautiful but emotionally manipulative new stepsister (Keeley Hawes). Another excellent cast that also includes Michael Gambon, Barbara Flynn, Barbara Leigh-Hunt, and Rosamund Pike.

Mirah (Jodhi May) and Daniel (Hugh Dancy) in Daniel Deronda
Daniel Deronda (2002): I wrote about this George Eliot adaptation my earlier post "Why BBC literary adaptations are so delightful: Daniel Deronda edition." It features gorgeous locations, a wonderful Andrew Davies script, and another excellent cast (including Amanda Root, Hugh Bonneville, Hugh Dancy, and Jodhi May).

Dorcas Lane (Julia Sawalha) in Lark Rise To Candleford
Lark Rise To Candleford (2008-2011): I wrote about this series in my posts "Lark Rise To Candleford" and "The Victorians and Bollywood: Lark Rise to Lagaan." The high quality of the scripts is maintained to the end of Season Four.

Mr. Slope (Alan Rickman) in The Barchester Chronicles
The Barchester Chronicles (1982): For a more detailed appreciation of this series, please see the Update to my post "A guide to the novels of Anthony Trollope, Part 1: The Chronicles of Barsetshire." The young Alan Rickman is especially slimy as the sibilant snake-like sycophant Mr. Slope, a forerunner of Harry Potter's Snape.

Irene Heron Forsyte (Gina McKee) in The Forsyte Saga
The Forsyte Saga (2002): Strictly speaking a Granada Television, not BBC, series, but equally lavish and equally well-cast. At first I wondered whether the problems of the self-involved members of this rich family (and the unfortunate people who found themselves in their orbit) were going to hold my interest for ten episodes and 700 minutes; we started to call it the "Lack of Foresight Saga." Then came the episode in which the family's dying patriarch, Old Jolyon, discovers an intellectual companionship that blossoms into platonic love with the sensitive Irene, his nephew Soames's estranged wife. In this episode, too, Old Jolyon begins to understand and accept the choices made by his artist son Young Joylon when he followed the imperatives of love over those of duty. This touching episode was beautifully written by Stephen Mallatratt and acted by Corin Redgrave (Old Jolyon), Gina McKee (Irene), Rupert Graves (Young Jolyon) and the other members of the cast. From then on, we were hooked.

Lizzie Siddal (Amy Manson) and Dante Gabriel Rossetti (Aidan Turner)
in Desperate Romantics
Desperate Romantics (2009): If you're somewhat allergic to costume dramas you'll still enjoy Desperate Romantics. It follows the misadventures of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood as they drink to excess, sleep with their models, and scandalize the Victorian art world. What makes the series take off is the larger-than-life performance of Aidan Turner as Dante Gabriel Rossetti, an artist and poet who is determined to make up for his relative lack of talent (or, at least, his lack of application) through relentless self-promotion. From the neo-glam-rock theme song on, the series is given a deliberately anachronistic tone by writer Peter Bowker and directors Paul Gay and Diarmuid Lawrence. Ordinarily deliberate anachronisms annoy me, but they work brilliantly in this very modern tale of sex and art-world success. Great fun, and a surprising amount of bare flesh (male and female). Definitely not your typical BBC series.

More Favorites of 2011: Bollywood, Books, Movies, and Music

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