Period drama is no new phenomenon: us Brits have a serious nostalgic streak, especially if it involves outrageously rich characters (we don’t ever worry about where the money comes from) with preposterously large houses.
However, the huge financial success of the increasingly ridiculous Downton Abbey has sparked demand for the genre, and we’re not in short supply: while some are just a tired combination of bustles and boredom, several offer decent plots alongside the covetable costumes and mansions, as well as dialogue that doesn’t make you laugh for all the wrong reasons.
But what is it we’re so desperate to ‘remember’ about the British character and history?
Golly Gosh what Female Solidarity in the 1950s:
Call the Midwife ensemble drama about an eclectic group of nuns and nurses working as midwives, based on Jennifer Worth’s memoirs. Naturally the subject matter entails a lot of babies – probably too many for all but the broodiest of tastes – and too much umbilical cord for anyone’s taste. But if you can stomach this and the almost equally nauseating voice-over that ends each episode it’s well worth a watch. Set in the East End, it’s a far cry from the glamour of most recent period dramas, and focuses on new recruit Jenny’s struggle to come to terms with the poverty and squalor surrounding her. The show is genuinely moving in its portrayal of the damage inflicted by the cruelty of the workhouses, it’s also genuinely funny – largely due to Miranda Hart’s show-stealing turn as ‘Chummy’.
Gadzukes aren’t Brits ‘endearingly’ stuck-up:
Mr Selfridge is ITV’s new Sunday evening offering (taking the vacated Downton slot) and it certainly seems as though they have high hopes of flogging this one to the Americans as well. The opening episode is obsessed with the American retail entrepreneur charging about London shaking up the stiff-collared and snobby Brits with his shockingly progressive ways: trying to get a shopgirl to get the gloves out on the counter is just one of his heinous crimes (for which he is, naturally, ejected from the establishment). I think we’re supposed to find Mr Selfridge terribly dashing and debonair but he’s actually incredibly irritating, with his tendency to indulge in selfaggrandizing speeches and generally behave as if he’s curing cancer rather than flogging socks. Nevertheless the attention to detail in the sets, costumes and props is impressive and maybe the characterisation will pick up in time. It’s on Sundays at 9pm if you want to find out.
By Jove the Victorians were Dark and Twisty:
Hunderby is the latest offering from the remarkable Julia Davis (Nighty Night, Gavin and Stacey): a bizarre, highly original, twisted Gothic comedy with strong Du Maurier influences, set in the 1830s. It’s fantastically filthy and contains some of the most horrendous sex scenes known to man, prefaced by such tempting invitations as the curate’s “Come bride, ‘tis a quarter after ten, we shall intercourse until a 30 after”. The writing is inspired and there’s been no expense spared on the production values: extensive period details and stunning exterior locations all accentuate the absurd and tastelessness of the characters and plots. I can’t promise you’ll love it, but I can promise you will never have seen anything like it and that you might even like it.
Jiminy Cricket – look at our British tradition of wonderful eccentricity:
Blandings is adapted from P.G. Wodehouse’s series of novels and short stories. The problem with adapting Wodehouse is that it is flawless in the original: one should never attempt to improve on the words of a man who can write that “she looked like she’d been poured into her clothes and forgotten to say when.” Unfortunately this adaptation strays a little too far from the original and at times relies on crude slapstick rather than letting Wodehouse’s words get the laughs they so deserve.