Must admit I haven’t seen The Night Watch, the new BBC adaptation of Sarah Waters’ novel set during the Second World War, as yet – though I do hope to do so. It was shown a few nights ago in the UK.

However, the BBC TV Blog has kindly been in touch with me to ask me to pass on a link to a fascinating piece by production designer Martin Boddinson about how he converted the sets for Lark Rise to Candleford for the interiors in The Night Watch – a real challenge given the very different periods of the two dramas! I know a lot of people who visit my blog are fans of Lark Rise, so thought you might be interested in reading Martin’s piece.

My new books blog

Sorry not to have updated here for such a long time – I hope I will revive this blog soon and write about one or two of the costume dramas I’ve been watching. In the meantime, I’ve started up yet another blog (!), BookShelfLife, which, as its name suggests, is about books, as I seem to be reading more than I watch at the moment. There are only a couple of postings there so far, but hopefully I’ll be writing more and looking at some classic authors.

Someone from the BBC TV blog has just kindly got in touch with me – for anyone who hasn’t come across this, it is a blog where the BBC publishes behind-the-scenes posts from actors, directors, writers, producers, and others from TV shows. Anyway, they asked me to let people know about a new posting there, by Pam Downes, the costume designer for Lark Rise to Candleford. Season four of this popular series has just started showing in the UK. Pam has written about her work with the characters, and has said she’ll get involved in the comments and, as far as possible, answer any questions that people might have on the Lark Rise costumes.

Just a quick note to let any readers of this blog in the UK know that the Daily Mail newspaper is giving away DVDs of the first series of the original Upstairs Downstairs every day this week, starting today, January 15. You have to pick up the DVDs from Tesco, WH Smith or Eason. As usual with their giveaways, you can also send off tokens from the newspaper and pay for postage and packing to get the set.

A Christmas Carol (1977)

Sir Michael Hordern as Scrooge

Just a quick note to wish everyone who visits my blog a happy and peaceful Christmas break. Over the past few festive seasons I’ve usually watched the Patrick Stewart version of A Christmas Carol, which I have reviewed here in the past, but this year I had a change by watching a 1977 BBC version starring Sir Michael Hordern as Scrooge and John Le Mesurier, best-known as Sergeant Wilson in the much-loved comedy series Dad’s Army, as Marley. I think this is only available on a Dutch DVD or as part of the Charles Dickens BBC Collection, but you can also find it posted on Youtube at the moment.

This is a very small-scale version, packed into just an hour, but I liked it very much – I grew up in the 1970s, and often enjoy adaptations made then. Director Moira Armstrong has made a number of other costume dramas, including some episodes of Lark Rise to Candleford. This short film has a feel of the original illustrations, and also I think all the dialogue in Elaine Morgan’s script is taken from Dickens’ original words. Sir Michael had earlier played Marley in the famous Alastair Sim version (Scrooge, 1951), which is many people’s favourite – I will hope to watch that one soon and compare. Anyway, I get the feeling Sir Michael has great fun as Scrooge, speaking his most outrageous lines in the early scenes with a gleeful wit, and then also making his gradual transformation believable. Le Mesurier doesn’t have very much screen time but his vagueness works well for a ghost, and the special effects are good for the period, I’d say.

John Le Mesurier as Marley

There is a fine support cast – June Brown, famous as Dot in EastEnders, has a chilling cameo as Mrs Dilber, the horrible woman who steals the shirt from Scrooge’s corpse in his vision of the future, while others to watch out for include John Salthouse as the young Scrooge, Zoe Wanamaker as Scrooge’s sweetheart Belle, Bernard Lee as the Ghost of Christmas Present, Tracey Childs, who starred in a BBC version of Sense and Sensibility, as Scrooge’s sister, Fan, and Zelah Clarke, who later starred in a version of Jane Eyre, as Martha Cratchit. Anyway, no time to write a full-length review but I’d recommend this to anyone who gets a chance to watch it, and happy Christmas to all who are celebrating.


Jane Eyre (1996)

Classic literary adaptations on TV might be in short supply at the moment, but there are two feature film versions of the Brontës’ novels due for release in 2011 – a new Jane Eyre directed by Cary Fukunaga and a new Wuthering Heights directed by Andrea Arnold. I’d be more excited about adaptations of works which haven’t been brought to the screen so many times already – but, nevertheless, will look forward to seeing both of these, especially the new take on Jane Eyre, as it is one of my favourite novels and I’ve reread it many times over the years. I loved the Sandy Welch version with Toby Stephens and Ruth Wilson, which I hope to re-watch and review soon, but am always game for a new version too.

Seeing the trailer for the new Jane Eyre reminded me that I hadn’t yet got round to watching the most recent feature film version, from 1996, directed by Franco Zeffirelli and starring Charlotte Gainsbourg and William Hurt, although I bought the DVD some time back. (I didn’t see it on release because my children were small then and it was hard to get out to the cinema.) I’ve now watched this one and have rather mixed feelings about it – my main problem being, perhaps surprisingly, that it felt too reined-in and not passionate enough. I have always remembered the sensuous romance of Zeffirelli’s Romeo and Juliet, and I suppose I expected something of the same atmosphere in this adaptation – but this is a far quieter film, with much of the emotion kept so far beneath the surface that it all but vanishes.

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Downton Abbey (2010)

Sorry not to have updated this blog lately, but I’ve been busy at work once again! Anyway, this is really to say that I’m still here, and have been enjoying the latest smash hit costume drama, Downton Abbey. It has been drawing audiences of around 11 million in England and Wales alone, after the controversial decision by STV not to screen the show in Scotland.

It’s odd now to think that about a year ago it was being predicted that costume drama would disappear from British TV, and from ITV in particular, as a result of budget constraints. Sadly, it does still seem that TV adaptations of older literary classics are an endangered species, with very few such productions planned in the near future – the BBC is working on The Sisters, based on DH Lawrence’s The Rainbow and Women in Love, and a new version of Winifred Holtby’s South Riding, with a script by Andrew Davies, and that’s about it at the moment. I thought someone was bound to commission a major Dickens adaptation for 2012 to tie in with his bicentenary, but have heard nothing on that front yet – though I’m hoping! (A Tale of Two Cities would probably be my choice, if anyone is wondering.)

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Casanova mini-series (2005)

David Tennant as Casanova

Oddly enough, there were two versions of Casanova brought to the screen in 2005. The better-known of the two is the lavish movie starring Heath Ledger – I have seen this film, a couple of years ago now, but remember finding it a bit disappointing as a drama, although Ledger was great and I enjoyed the Venetian settings, costumes etc. I should really give it a second try. Anyway, I’ve just belatedly watched all of  the three-part BBC mini-series made the same year, starring David Tennant, Peter O’Toole and Rose Byrne – I’d only seen bits and pieces up to now – and just wanted to write a short posting to say I loved this irreverent version of the story. It isn’t exactly what I’d usually think of as a costume drama, since the characters are very much modern people in 18th-century dress, and the language is very 21st-century too, full of contemporary slang and teasing references to the present day. But I found it  seductively enjoyable – and, perhaps surprisingly given the subject matter, I felt it was ultimately about romance rather than sex.

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It often frustrates me that so many TV adaptations of literary classics made in the 1960s and 70s aren’t available to be seen – so I was interested to see a news story in The Daily Telegraph about the rediscovery in the BBC archives of a version of Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina first broadcast in 1961, starring Claire Bloom as Anna and a pre-Bond Sean Connery as Vronsky. This is being released on DVD in the UK next month. It was released on DVD in the US last year, so the master tape must have been found in the archives slightly longer ago than is being claimed in news reports. Anyway, I think it’s exciting to see a 1960s BBC drama being released, and am now hoping the same might happen for some of the other goodies which still exist – there are several older BBC adaptations which are available to see on a computer monitor if you visit the BFI mediatheque in  London, so there must be a hope that some of these could turn up on DVD in the future if there is enough interest!

Andrew Buchan and Alun Armstrong in Garrow's Law, returning this autumn

Despite all the cutbacks to TV drama, there are some exciting period dramas still coming up – so I thought I’d do a little round-up of what is in store this autumn and winter.  Goodies coming up in the UK include ITV’s major drama Downton Abbey, which is scripted by Julian Fellowes of Gosford Park fame and set in a great country house in 1912 – the amazing cast is headed by Dame Maggie Smith and Hugh Bonneville. This series already has an unofficial fansite.

Also coming up on ITV1 is what I believe is the last drama written by great scriptwriter Alan Plater before his recent death, Joe Maddison’s War, a two-hour film which stars Kevin Whately as a shipyard worker in the Second World War. Sir Derek Jacobi and Melanie Hill are also in this one and it was reportedly filmed on location in Newcastle earlier this year, so hopefully will turn up during the new season.

Also due to be shown this autumn is the second series of the BBC’s 18th-century legal drama  Garrow’s Law , currently filming in Scotland – I’m a fan of this series, starring Andrew Buchan, Alun Armstrong and Lyndsey Marshal, so it is another one I’m really looking forward to.

The BBC is also currently filming an adaptation of Michel Faber’s bestselling novel The Crimson Petal and the White, set in 1870s London and focusing on a secret relationship between a businessman and a young prostitute – this is being filmed in Liverpool and it has been reported that the cast is headed by Richard E Grant and Gillian Anderson. It’s directed by Marc Munden who made Channel 4’s Civil War series The Devil’s Whore.

BBC2 has a one-off drama coming up this autumn called Christopher and His Kind, adapted from writer Christopher Isherwood’s memoir of the same name and looking at his life in Berlin in the early 1930s which inspired Cabaret – filming on this was done in May and June in Belfast. Matt Smith, the current star of Doctor Who, plays Isherwood, with Toby Jones and Lindsay Duncan also starring.

Lindsay Duncan is also among the cast for two-part BBC2 drama The Sinking of the Laconia, a wartime drama scripted by Alan Bleasdale about an armed British vessel sunk by a German U-boat – Andrew Buchan stars in this too, as well as Brian Cox. There are also dramas coming up on BBC2 about the making of Coronation Street (really strange that this one isn’t on ITV, which has been showing the series for 50 years!) and the early years of TV comedy legends Morecambe and Wise, with Victoria Wood cast as Morecambe’s mum.

I’m not sure whether you’d call this next one a costume drama or sci-fi – a cross between the two, I suppose! Mark Gatiss has adapted HG Wells’ classic The First Men in the Moon for BBC Four, and also stars as  Edwardian scientist Professor Cavor. BBC Four also has an adaptation by William Ivory of DH Lawrence’s The Rainbow and Women in Love coming up, melded together under the title The Sisters, starring Rosamund Pike and Rachael Stirling. Another classic being adapted for BBC Four is John Braine’s Room at the Top – I don’t know who is starring in this one.

I don’t think Channel 4 has announced its new season line-up yet but hopefully may have one or two period dramas in store too.