Lark Rise to Candleford 1 (2008)


   

Our Rating: 5 out of 5

Rated: TVPG

 

Reviewer: Charity Bishop

 

Loosely based on Flora Thompson's autobiographical novel, Lark Rise to Candleford is a ten episode miniseries set in the late Victorian era and revolving around the charming, eccentric, and often comical townspeople of the neighboring villages of Lark Rise and Candleford. It's both a beautiful costume drama and wonderful experience for the entire family.

  

When it is decided by the Timmons family that their eldest daughter Laura (Olivia Hallinan) must enter the world and thus the workforce, she is sent to stay with her cousin Dorcas (Julia Sawalha) at the post office in Candleford. Reluctant to leave her family and friends behind in Lark Rise, Laura is relieved to find that Dorcas is an amusing and sensible woman who runs a tight household and is well liked by everyone in town. Her departure causes her father some amount of distress, but it is not long before Laura comes to enjoy her newfound employment and is even granted a temporary mail route. Almost immediately, she gains the attention of the groundskeeper of a local landowner (Oliver Jackson-Cohen) and they begin an unlikely friendship that threatens her timid romance with Alf (John Dagleish), the boy she left behind. When it becomes apparent that friction exists between the two towns because of post office policy that telegrams delivered over seven miles from Candleford must be paid for before they are delivered, Dorcas enlists the assistance of her friend Sir Timothy (Ben Miles), the local magistrate, to sort matters out.

 

The pair of them share a tempestuous romantic history but his recent marriage to the city-minded Adelaide (Olivia Grant) has put their relationship under strain. In the meantime, Alf faces the possibility that he may be forced to care for his younger siblings when his mother is threatened with the workhouse if she does not pay off her debts. This miniseries (which happily has been renewed for a second season due to its immense popularity in the UK) consists of stand alone episodes that build on one another in terms of character development, but are not so closely linked that you could not watch one late in the series and find yourself lost amid all the characters. It's one of the more brilliant little productions I have seen, and caused me to fall in love with it in a matter of minutes.

 

The towns are full of spunky, exciting, interesting, and often complicated individuals who are first and foremost human -- everyone makes mistakes (sometimes disastrous ones) but in the end it is good values and family that is promoted as being the most important. My favorite of the many characters is Dorcas, who sometimes allows her headstrong nature to get the best of her, but is never unwilling to admit her mistakes. She has a wonderful temperament and her plight (of forbidden love) is heartbreaking. One of my favorite episodes involves her quarrel with a post office accountant so fond of rules and regulations that it causes a tumultuous upheaval in the town. Dorcas tears into him with a particularly nasty speech that she comes to regret later on -- but often as in the case with the series, she is able to make amends for her actions. In another episode, Laura is ashamed of her father due to an incident in town, but by the end is crying in his arms. It is a lighthearted glimpse into the lives of characters destined to be remembered for their quirks, but underneath runs something memorable -- a study of human nature. The BBC has not tackled anything quite like this in a very long time (that is to say, a miniseries with an open ending that could generate any number of seasons and episodes) but it's brilliant. It's clean, it's funny, it's sometimes tragic, and it's always enjoyable.
 
True, there are certain aspects that fail (Dawn French is perhaps the most irritating addition to the town, and her character is painfully over the top) but other qualities more than make up for it. Dorcas is in love with Sir Timothy, but resists any mild advances, concerned that she will do damage to his marriage. Rather than painting his wife as a shrew, the series shows us a very insecure woman tormented in the knowledge that her husband does not love her, although by the end he promises to do his best in making the marriage work. One of the men who works at the post office is an evangelical Christian who is profoundly concerned as to the salvation of the people around him. Sometimes, his enthusiasm is comical but always respected.
Despite its intentions to remain lighthearted, certain episodes do deal with heavy topics -- one centers around a man who has punched his wife; another deals with poaching and a boy almost loses his life. There are occasional mild profanities, and a good deal of political friction between Laura's liberal minded father and her "Torry" friends.

 

There is nothing offensive in it, and the show is full of wonderful quirks. You cannot help loving a series that one moment has a cranky old housekeeper scheming to cause someone to take a tumble into a overgrown well, and in the next has a tearful reconciliation between long-separated family members.

 

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