Lark Rise To Candleford Review
When Morrisey sang, "Every day is like Sunday!", he probably had those dreary grey Sundays of his Mancunian youth in mind, when the rainfall began before church and only ended when the sun set, his homework was completed and the end credits to Last Of The Summer Wine played out on television. It's not so very different now from then. Homework still has to be done, the weekend always seems much too short and, unbelievably given that everyone but Clegg is dead, Last Of The Summer Wine is still on television. Perhaps inspired by its easygoing charms, Sunday night television scheduling is now a haven of peace, quiet and rather slow country folk, which transports our increasingly urban population into the sun-dappled countryside as a means to forget about their modern-day crises for an hour or two. Monarch Of The Glen, Cranford, Doc Martin, Kingdom and Lark Rise To Candleford have all come into our lives with their impossibly gentle ways and all have been welcomed like a soothing balm to ease those pre-Monday aches and pains away.
Like the Sundays of old, very little happens in these shows but even by the standard of Sunday evening dramas, Lark Rise To Candleford is a quiet affair. Based on the book by Flora Thompson, which was first published in 1945, Lark Rise To Candleford is the story of two villages, Lark Rise and Candleford, and of the conflicts between the two. Candleford is the wealthier of the two, a market town with stately homes on its edges and a post office in its centre, the affairs of which come under the management of postmistress Dorcas Lane (Julia Sawalha). The hamlet of Lark Rise is the poorer of the two, populated not by the aristocracy and merchants of Candleford but by farmers and craftsmen. Young Laura Timmins (Olivia Hallinan) leaves one for the other, taking herself away from Lark Rise to Candleford for a job at the post office. That was something Flora Thompson knew so very well from leaving her own home in the small hamlet of Juniper Hall aged 14 for a job in the local post office.
Such a life informed the stories of Lark Rise To Candleford. The first episode, for example, tells of the laying of a telegraph cable to Candleford but which, for fear of passing Lark Rise by, is diverted to the small hamlet as a means of making all men equal. The good people of both villages attend to the laying of this telegraph cable and picnics, parties and celebrations follow in its wake. Beyond this, there is precious little plot and certainly nothing more than introducing the characters who will drive the series over the next nine weeks but it is the pace of Lark Rise To Candleford that is its winning hand. There is a sense of peace to Lark Rise To Candleford that makes it a most suitable show for a Sunday night as well as such a sense of community as to make us feel very much better about ourselves. Each episode may begin with a crisis, or something like a crisis in the quiet lanes of Lark Rise and Candleford, but it will also end with good deeds being done, of wrongs righted and of the petty squabbles from earlier resolved over an ale, a song or in prayer.
Early, there is a palpable sense of drama when the otherwise chipper Caroline Arless (Dawn French) is placed in the debtor's prison for defaulting on a loan. Without two pennies to rub together, her future looks bleak but with her son pawning his accordion to free her from gaol and the pious and religious postman Thomas Brown (Mark Heap) taking her young lad under his wing, Caroline comes before the court as happy as the day is long. Similarly, the very point of the series comes with what Robert and Emma Timmins (Brendan Coyle and Claudia Blakley) must do following the birth of their fifth child. Rather than sending the new arrival to the workhouse, their eldest daughter Laura leaves to work in the post office in Candleford. And so the story begins.
Later episodes are not so very different. There's the reflection of modern attitudes when Robert Timmins refuses to let his children take part in a church play that would have seen them sing songs in praise of the Tories - there will be many in the north who will nod their head in agreement at such a principle - while Phil Davis has a right old turn as Arthur Ashlow, a conman who claims to be the father of the snobbish Pratt sisters, Pearl and Ruby Pratt (Matilda Ziegler and Victoria Hamilton). Their horror at seeing him in Candleford makes for a good contrast with the glint in his eyes at seeing the riches that are there for the picking. There is trouble at the post office in the fifth episode in the series when an inspector comes calling, albeit that Zillah (Liz Smith), the servant, has plans to be rid of him by digging a hole in the garden with which to entrap him. Even in spite of Mark Heap's best efforts, this is, by some distance, the funniest and best-spirited episode of the lot.
The next two episodes are more dramatic. The first sees a homeless family leave their daughter in Lark Rise, hoping that she will find some stability in the village. Lady Adelaide (Olivia Grant) wants to adopt the girl but her husband refuses. The second of these is probably the most unsettling of the series in that it looks at domestic abuse through the Braby family, with Sam hitting wife Susan with such force that it leaves her with a black eye. While always making clear that Sam was in the wrong, the episode looks at the various means of punishing Sam, either through the courts, through the local community or through Susan appealing to Sam's better nature. It's a particularly bleak episode and probably the only one out of the ten that doesn't end happily. For that very reason, it's also the only episode that doesn't feel entirely inconsequential. There's real passion in Nicola Stephenson's playing of Susan Braby that just isn't present elsewhere, with more than a handful of the cast believing that their character is a very distant relation of Heartbeat's Jeremiah Greengrass (Bill Maynard), being dim and poorly educated but always ready for a glass of ale, a spot of poaching or some equally daft scheme. The series draws to a close in very much the same manner as it opened. The sun splits the trees, the good people of Lark Rise and Candleford come together and the cast of characters make clear that there are a good many stories still to be told about them. Rather than the full stop of a Dickens, an Austen or a Hardy, this series is more about the BBC finding a period drama that they can return to time and again. That a second series has already been commissioned would seem to suggest they have found a deserved success with it, as, no doubt, they will do with this DVD release.
The DVD presentation is very much as you would expect from 2 Entertain. The picture is anamorphically enhanced in 1.78:1 and generally looks fairly good, with the middle-to-late run of episodes, which have a slightly darker subject matter and look to them, coming across that bit better on DVD. The standout moment in the entire series is Lady Adelaide following little Polly into the woods in episode 6, which is very much sharper than most of the show, but, on the whole, 2 Entertain have done a reasonable job. The only problem comes with the dim lighting used in the making of the series, which can leave Lark Rise To Candleford looking as though the meter ran out halfway through a scene. The effect of candle light is all very good at setting a scene but not quite so good if, as a viewer, you find yourself peering into the gloom to pick out the characters. The DD2.0 audio track, which is the only option, is fine. There's nothing one can say against it but, similarly, there's little that one can say in praise of it. The dialogue is clear, there's little obvious background noise and things sound very much as one would expect. Finally, there are English subtitles throughout.
The only bonus material on the disc is The Making Of Lark Rise To Candleford (29m10s), a reasonable look behind the scenes at how the series was produced, descriptions of the characters by those who play them and how much care was taken over getting the details right. As such, it isn't the most exciting of extras and the set would have been no worse without it but it's interesting enough to watch once, particularly if the fourth DVD is sitting in the player and you're too lazy to get up to change channels, if not any more than that.