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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