Tuesday, June 09, 2015

Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell and other great British Television Drama

We've been avidly watching the B.B.C. Television adaptation of the Susanna Clarke novel "Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell." I have to say that when I had first heard that this was to be adapted for television I had reservations, but now we are into the fourth episode of a seven-part adaptation, I am more than pleased with the result. I enjoyed the novel, and read it when it first came out in 2004. It is a weighty novel, the original hardback edition is some 780 pages long. When it eventually appeared in paperback I noted at the time that it was published in two volumes in a slip-case. I was concerned that if it was made into a film it would be condensed considerably to fit into a reasonable running time. Which is why it works best as a seven-part television adaptation as it allows for the story and the characters adequate space to develop. The special effects don't detract from the rest of the drama and are used sparingly and don't look, like a lot of computer generated effects in television and film, as if they've been stuck onto the film rather like using Photoshop and seems to fit in very well. In 'Doctor Who' (the revised version which began in 2005.) many of the C.G.I. effects, particularly many of the alien creatures, look 'stuck on' and very fake and not very scary. (I have to admit to being a 'Doctor Who' fan and saw the very first episode when it was first transmitted back in 1963. I have enjoyed the reincarnation of the show, but for some reason it just doesn't have the magic of the original. Those stories may have been somewhat 'low-tech', having very unconvincing sets, wobbly or otherwise, but the stories were always 'edge-of-the seat.' You always wondered where the Tardis would end up in the next stories when the good Doctor and his companions left at the end of each story and it was a surprise when they ended up on some weird and wonderful planet or different historic time and then meet the alien or lifeform that lived there. Spending more on the new Doctor Who episodes don't always mean that the stories or monsters will be better. In some cases the new stories are just not up to standard.) Back to "Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell." The setting is totally convincing. For once someone has spent time and effort with the dialogue and it sounds genuine. It seems that when they adapt a classic novel the dialogue which is used doesn't always sound convincing. In fact, in some other types of drams, particularly science fiction and fantasy, the dialogue is really awful. It's a wonder the actors can bear to speak such utter drivel. A good example is "Atlantis." Some of the dialogue in that was really poor. It's no wonder this series was cancelled.

I love British television drama. So we've seen a bumper crop of really excellent home-grown productions recently and the sort of shows that you want to tune into week after week and keep you guessing what is going to happen next with the characters and storylines. One of these series was called "In The Club" which is yet another excellent show written and created by Kay Mellor who always seems to come up with brilliant ideas. It's set around a group of women and their partners who are pregnant and each week we see the trials and tribulations of their lives leading up to the birth of their babies in the same hospital's maternity ward. Another Kay Mellor-scripted series is "The Syndicate." I haven't seen any of the earlier series of this series, which tells of the different groups of characters who's lives are changed with lottery wins. This one features Lenny Henry who seems to be making a career change from comedy to more serious acting roles. Yorkshire seems to be the location of a whole range of dramas (including the previously-mentioned "Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell.") Over the years we've had "Heartbeat", "Last of The Summer Wine" and of course the Granada Television series of "Brideshead Revisited"  which was filmed there, particularly the central location at Castle Howard. I suppose it does provide a very wide range of locations. Scarborough in particular is used a great deal and features in the new series of "The Syndicate." "Downton Abbey" is supposed to be set there, but is actually filmed at Highclere Castle in the south of England. The locations for the fictional Downton village is filmed in the Oxfordshire village of Bamford. We began watching "Downton Abbey" when it was originally shown but gave up because it had so many commercials in it that it was ruining our enjoyment of the show. I realise it's the advertising which pays for commercial television, but having ads every ten minutes or so for sofas and stupid car insurance really drove us mad at one point. So it was fortunate that we can currently watch this series from the first episode through download from Sky and watch without the interruption of the confounded adverts. I suppose as regards earning money from advertising this isn't such a good idea for I.T.V., but from the perspective of the viewer who has to endure the adverts which breaks up the shows it's a godsend.

We are enjoying 'Downton Abbey.' I have to say, though, that the stories revolving around the 'downstairs' characters are far more interesting than those of the 'upstairs' characters. The Hugh Bonneville character is somewhat wooden. Although it's supposed to be set in Yorkshire, there is absolutely no feeling at all that it's set anywhere in particular. Some of the characters mention places in Yorkshire, but you don't see anything at all that might suggest 'Yorkshire,' nothing of the scenery of landscape. They have used that village in Oxfordshire which I have mentioned earlier supposedly because it has houses that are made of a similar stone to that you find used in buildings in Yorkshire, but I don't get any feeling of 'Yorkshire.' The best character is that played by Dame Maggie Smith who seems to get all the best lines and a lot of the humour revolves around her character. We visited a National Trust property recently, Basildon Park, which is used for a lot of the interiors in 'Downton Abbey' and it seems that another National Property, Waddesdon Manor, near Aylesbury, is used for the interiors of another of the fictional houses in the series.

Another drama series which we have enjoyed considerably has been "Last Tango In Halifax.' Again, it's set in Yorkshire. In fact we have had holidays in this part of Yorkshire and stayed on one occasion in a rented house not far from where this series is filmed, in a small town called Cowling. The plot, if you didn't watch it, revolves around Celia and Alan, who are re-united after 50-plus years. At age 16, Alan's late wife failed to pass on his letter with apology for missing their first date and forwarding address. Both now have daughters with their own relationship problems. Derek Jacobi plays Alan and Anne Reid plays Celia. It also stars Sarah Lancashire and Nicola Walker. The series is written by Sally Wainwright and apparently it is based loosely on real events and situations. The series started in November 2012 and has now reached it's third series.

Yet another series we've seen is called "Ordinary Lies" which is set in and around  .J.S. Motors. Each episode tells a story from the angle of each of the central characters and how they tell lies to get out of a situation and how such lies causes problems for themselves and those around them. For example, the first episode revolves around Marty, one of the company's salesman, who is late for work consistently and then makes up the story that his wife has died. He is played by Jason Manford, not known for playing parts in television drama. It also stars Sally Lindsay, Mackenzie Crook (best known for his appearances in 'The Office' and the film 'Pirates of The Caribbean.'), Jo Joyner (EastEnders), Rebecca Callard, Max Beesley and Michelle Keegan (another former 'Coronation Street' actor.) It is written by Danny Brocklehurst.

Later episodes centre around the other characters. One is about receptionist Tracy who gets involved with fellow receptionist Viv when they get immured in a drug-trafficking charge into the Dominican  Republic when they go on holiday abroad.


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