I have to admit, this is my very first 7 quick takes! To be honest, when I started to write again (albeit sparingly), I had thought perhaps of doing a couple of link-ups in the hopes of building a community of sorts in this wonderful internet world. But life gets busy, and even something has simple as a “quick” take post could be nearly impossible with two little ones and a travelling husband. Not to mention, what on earth was I to write about? I figured it should be something that has been a part of my life recently, and, because I roll like that, I figured it should have some sort of a theme. I couldn’t quite figure out what to write when….during a 4 am feeding of my sweet seven-month old…EUREKA!!
Well, not Downton Abbey per say, but an entire post dedicated to British Period Dramas…umm…yes please! Let me explain. Three years ago, just after the birth of my oldest son, Leo, my sweet husband had to go on a business trip…to Africa…for six weeks. Leo was only a couple of weeks old and, like most newborns, had a crazy sleep schedule. As a newborn, he managed to sleep relatively well during the night, but he also slept pretty much ALL DAY LONG, too. Now I had friends I could visit and chores I could do, but by the afternoon I was so bored. So one day I found Downton Abbey on Netflix, and all of the sudden I was ushered into this amazing world of beautiful costumes and witty banter, all set amidst the wonderful backdrop of the English countryside. I was hooked, and would be hooked for sometime. In a way Downton saved me and my sanity, and I soon immersed myself into its world, pretending it was my own.
Fast forward 2 1/2 years. My second son Samuel is born, and he chooses that nighttime sleeping is just not.his.thing. Many nights I would fall asleep with him in my arms, only to wake with terrible back/neck/leg/head pain and then forced to chase around a very lively toddler (all, of course, while Ryan is travelling). So again, in my desperation, I found Downton. I had just gotten an iPhone, and with it an Amazon Prime membership. Since falling asleep in the chair was out of the question, I needed something to fill my nights that would keep me awake but wouldn’t be too exciting that I would stay up after baby decided to go back into the crib. It didn’t take me long to get caught up on my show, and soon I found myself wondering what was next. Leave it to good ol’ Amazon, however, to recommend shows that would be right up my alley (or abbey): British period dramas.
Here’s the thing about British period pieces: they are not the same, run-of-the-old, cheese-factor soaps that we find in many American period dramas (think Hallmark/Lifetime). First, many of them tend to be recreations of classic literary masterpieces, such as Jane Austen, Charles Dickens, and Elizabeth Gaskell. But more importantly, the acting is amazing. These shows (and mini-series) tend to find the very best of British actors who seem to fit naturally into the world they are placed in. So over the course of many months, I too immersed myself into the world of British drama. It has been wonderful and freeing and JUST WHAT I NEEDED to keep me sane and happy during a difficult transition into life with two little ones. So here we go, in the order that I best see fit, my favorite period pieces I’ve seen (so far)!
THE BLEAK HOUSE
I must admit that I had never heard of this Charles Dickens story, nor do I have any interest in Charles Dickens’ literature to begin with (I have tried reading Great Expectations with no success). But this mini-series was remarkable. It is long, so it took me quite a while to get through it, but the acting is amazing, and its portrayal of human weakness, especially when pertaining to that ever present reality of greed, is just fantastic.
Wives and Daughters
This is an oldie but a goodie. I was surprised by how much I liked it, especially considering it starts off rather slow, and the central character, Molly, is so incredibly awkward. But as the series goes on, I began to find her awkwardness rather endearing, and found myself rooting for her even though she seemed to not be rooting for herself. My only disclaimer: the role of her step-sister is INFURIATING. Be prepared to want to throw your watching device across the room whenever she is around.
Talk about a wildcard! I remember reading a description of this show and immediately being turned off: too Hallmarkish, I thought. But then I noticed the great Judy Dench had a central role, and I figured “well, how bad could it be? I mean, she’s a dame.” I am so grateful I gave it a second chance, because it is remarkable. It is set in a small English town, terrified of its future as the railway inches closer and closer to its borders. This is the second of three Elizabeth Gaskell novels in my list (the first being Wives and Daughters, the third we will see shortly) and with each series I make it through I want to read the books more and more. Do yourself a favor: set aside an afternoon (it is a short series), grab a cup of tea and WATCH THIS SERIES. You won’t regret it.
North and South
I saved the best of Gaskell’s works for last. To be honest I had avoided this series for quite a while. First, its set primarily in an industrial city instead of a beautiful countryside (isn’t that one of the reasons why we love British pieces to begin with?!?) and second its primary actor, Richard Armitage, is incredibly stern. I was worried that I wouldn’t be able to look past his rather angry demeanor. But two episodes in, I was hooked. The acting, again, is amazing (Mr Bates is in it!!), but more importantly it dives into an area of social concern that I hadn’t yet watched: the plight of the industrial worker. After watching the series I went searching for any book or information I could find on the historical period as it sparked an intellectual curiosity in me. Now THAT’S the sign of some good television.
Finally, an appearance by Jane Austen, but that also means a confession of sorts on my part…so here we go…I have never read Jane Austen. Yikes, people might have stopped reading there. Sorry! Don’t get me wrong, I have TRIED. SO DESPERATELY TRIED! But in spite of my love for British period dramas on the screen, that love can’t seem to translate into the world of literature (at least most of it). That being said, I LOVE EMMA. I have seen every single screen version of this beloved story, including the 1970s single-shot BBC version which is wonderful and the Epic-fail that was Gwenyth Paltrow (feel free to disagree with me on that last one). But this one, this one is by far my favorite. It uses the best of modern mannerisms while at the same time just leaving the story be and letting Austen do the rest. The character of Emma is good enough, but they hit it out of the park with Mr. Knightly (Johnny Lee Miller). He is stern but loving while at the same time not taking himself too seriously. It is WONDERFUL, and not as long as some other miniseries. Just watch it…TRUST ME.
Lark Rise to Candleford
And here is the curveball, the show that creeps up on you in its charm and leaves you thinking about its messages FOR DAYS. Lark Rise to Candleford tells the story of two small towns (one strictly country folk and the other attempting to be city dwellers). At the center of it all is the post office and the beloved post mistress, Dorkas Lane. It is a longer series for British television, spanning over the course of four seasons, and to be honest I haven’t seen every episode in full, but on the whole, I would recommend this show to ANYONE in a heartbeat. While some shows dabble in some rather strange themes (there is one episode with a bleeding tree that is just plain weird), overall it is just wonderful. It is simple without being boring. It is charming without being cheesy. Its characters are real and raw but without all the unnecessary scandal that so many American dramas seem to add. Plus, it has MR BATES. Need I say more?
Pride and Prejudice (1995)
Colin Firth. That’s really all I need to write…
No seriously, there is no contest when it comes to this mini-series. I first watched it in its entirety many years ago with some girlfriends from my graduate program. I had only seen the Keira Knightly movie version, and was shocked that I could have ever liked it after watching this series. The acting is amazing, the story line is so beautifully put together, and again, Colin Firth. It is the best, there is no contest.
So there you go! What period pieces have you swooning recently? Oh, and make sure you join Jen for more Quick Takes!
Blessings to you all! Jules