I’ve finally caught up with the five-part series Land Girls, which was shown earlier this year on BBC1 in a teatime slot to mark the 70th anniversary of the start of the Second World War. To be honest, I was a bit disappointed. I did enjoy parts of it, and loved some of the actors’ performances, but had hoped for more.
On the plus side, it all looks gorgeous, costumes, sets and landscapes alike – the series was made in and around Toddington Station on the Gloucester and Warwickshire Railway, a preserved steam line – and the music by Debbie Wiseman is beautiful and haunting. There is a fine cast, with the best-known names probably being Nathaniel Parker and Sophie Ward as Lawrence and Ellen Hoxley, lord and lady of the manor where the girls are based. They both give good performances, as do the actresses playing the various land girls – I think Summer Strallen is especially good as Nancy, a well-spoken office worker who struggles to get used to living on the land, and who gets involved in an affair with Lawrence.
Writer Roland Moore was clearly fascinated by his subject – I found an article by him online about all the research he’d done, which has a lot of interesting background. However, he has mainly worked as a writer on the BBC soap opera Doctors, and I’m afraid I found this very soapy too, with unlikely and melodramatic storylines and complicated love lives for each of the heroines, sisters Annie and Bea (Christine Bottomley and Jo Woodcock), sensible Joyce (Becci Gemmell) and flighty Nancy.
Everyone has a dark secret, and all the characters are somewhat cliched, from the unbearably cold and snobbish Lady Hoxley to the sex-mad American GI, Cal (Christian Brassington) to the lovable rogue of a farmer, Frederick Finch (Mark Benton), who is always coming up with disastrous comic ways to make a little extra cash. Danny Webb’s character, a gamekeeper turned Home Guard officer who fears everyone in sight is a fifth columnist, is somewhat more individual.
Different episodes had different directors and cinematographers, and, perhaps as a result, I think the series feels patchy, with flashes of brilliance every now and then amid all the soap. There are several powerful scenes at the station, with shades of Brief Encounter, as Annie walks hesitantly alongside steam trains pulling in or out of the platform. In the first scene she is saying goodbye to the husband she doesn’t love and who makes her feel like a failure, and in each subsequent scene at a station she is wrestling with a new emotion.
I also especially liked the storyline in the second episode where Lawrence is struggling to prevent his horse from being shot after being injured in a fall – there is a great moment where he rubs his face up against the horse. I’m a fan of Nat Parker anyway and his character in this sometimes had hints of the poignancy he gives Rawdon Crawley in Vanity Fair, a series which I really want to write about here before too long.
The series has been criticised for historical inaccuracies, such as not observing the blackout and giving the girls the wrong uniforms. Since I’m not an expert on the period, this sort of detail didn’t jar with me all that much, but my main disappointment was that we didn’t get much flavour of what a land girl’s life was really like, and how hard it must have been working at a farm in all weathers. All this seemed to be glossed over. Over on my other blog, Movie Classics, I recently reviewed a wartime film called The Gentle Sex about a group of women in the Auxiliary Territorial Service, and I thought this older film was much better on the unglamorous reality of working life. I do also have a recording of the film The Land Girls (1998) which starred Anna Friel, and hope to watch this soon and see how it compares.