Video Saved The Literary Star – Part One

I’m not usually one for watching a lot of television (unless there’s a major football or cricket event on), and that includes period drama adapted from classic literature.  However, over the past month or so, I’ve somehow got sucked into ploughing through several series, and some of it has been very good viewing.  So, today (for a change), I’ll be reviewing some viewing rather than reading.  Don’t worry – normal service will be resumed very soon ;

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The catalyst for all this was the discovery that the ABC here in Australia was showing the recent BBC version of Great Expectations, spread over three Sundays.  I’d heard good thing about it from many British-based bloggers and tweeps, and (as my review of the book shows) I love the book.  While very different from the novel in places, the series was nevertheless very entertaining.  Gillian Anderson made a very believeably-unhinged Miss Havisham, and Ray Winstone did what Ray Winstone does in the role of Magwitch – made you very glad he wasn’t really in your front room.

It wasn’t all good though.  The first episode was probably the highlight of the mini-series, and in the later episodes Pip came across as extremely vain without the hindsight of the adult Pip’s narration.  The fact that Pip was prettier than Estella (and, as I read on Twitter, should probably have been down for the London season instead…) was also a bit of a distraction – although curiously that didn’t seem to bother my wife at all.  As for the ending… Well, let’s just say that if a book has a decent ending, you really should just leave it alone…

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While Great Expectations seemed unintentionally camp at times, Downton Abbey had its tongue firmly inserted in cheek (preferably someone else’s).  ITV’s version of a period drama, an adaptation in search of an original book, appears to have been created by someone who wanted the feel of a classic novel without the boring bits.  Which has actually turned out rather well, surprisingly enough.

We raced through a marathon session after the first series was repeated here in Oz, which probably means that Series Two will be shown at some point in the near future.  It was great fun, pantomime humour without having to leave your comfy living room, complete with a couple of nasty villains you feel compelled to boo and hiss at whenever they enter the stage screen.  The racist matriarch, the unfortunate Turkish gigolo, the beautiful setting, the eyebrows…  wonderful, all of it 🙂

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Sadly though, not all of my viewing has been as enjoyable.  I had high hopes for He Knew He Was Right, having loved Anthony Trollope’s novel when I read it last year, but sadly the four-part series was a bit of a disappointment.  It wasn’t unwatchable, but compared to the sustained psychological excellence of the book, the television version came across as very lightweight and almost anodyne.

One problem was that the main character, Louis Trevelyan, came across as a weak, whinging milksop, rather than the confronting monomaniac depicted in the book.  In fact, I wasn’t overly impressed with the casting for this series, with the honourable exception of Bill Nighy as Colonel Osborne, whose marvellous impression of a middle-aged gentleman channelling Robbie Williams was a delight to behold.

Of course, the major talking point was the breaking of the fourth wall (when the actors speak directly to the audience).  The first time it happened, I was simply stunned – what is he doing?  The more it happened, the more impatient I got (and I wasn’t alone with this – my wife was also less than impressed).  In an attempt to get Trollope’s style of avuncular discussion of the plot across to the viewer, the makers opted for an unusual method of getting information across.  Unfortunately, it made it even worse.

And no, even seeing Doctor Who pursued by two carnivorous Victorian ladies didn’t make up for it 😉

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That’s all for today, but never fear.  I’ve been very busy with my period dramas recently, so I’ll be bringing Part Two of my musings to you all very shortly 😉

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14 thoughts on “Video Saved The Literary Star – Part One

  1. That's too bad about He Knew He Was Right. I've had the adaptation in my Netflix queue for a while and was hoping for good things. I am glad to hear that you liked Great Expectations; the reviews I've seen have been all over the map, and I haven't had a chance to watch it.

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  2. Nice to write something different for a change. I agree re your first two … we have just finished our Blu Ray set of Season 2 PLUS the Xmas edition that we had to order separately (of Downton). Great series … gorgeous detail. Interesting social history and not too soap-opera-y!

    Didn't even know about the Trollope one. Sounds like it's just as well.

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  3. I haven't seen any of them, although I have Downton Abbey on DVD. I should probably watch it, now that series 2 is finally on TV here. I have to be in the right mood to watch a costume drama, especially an historically inaccurate one. 🙂

    I do love Bill Nighy. He always turns in such a good performance. I'm waiting for the other Great Expectations with HBC as Miss H. The boy who played Pip in the series you mention certainly looks a bit too pretty in the stills I've seen. Maybe if the library gets the series I'll watch it, but I'm not that bothered, really.

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  4. Guy – Definitely another one to scour the library web-site for 😉 By the way – more Trollope coming up next week…

    Gary – I'm not usually either, but I'm going through a phase. It's also a hobby my wife and I can share – she's not likely to read them, so this is as close as we'll get.

    Teresa – I *liked* GE, but I didn't love it… My top recommendation will be revealed next week 🙂

    WG – Just about to settle down with the first episode of DA Series Two 😉 But what do you mean 'not too soap-opera-y'? That's its selling point!

    Violet – Bill Nighy definitely steals every scene he's in in HKHWR – whether the performance is historically accurate is another matter 😉

    As for Pip – well, when you first see him as an adult (at the end of the first part), he does look a bit like a supermodel in blacksmith fancy dress 🙂

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  5. I haven't watched any of these although Great Expectations, I do want to see/read sometime and I was instructed to watch Downtown abbey by some blog friends. 🙂

    I also enjoy watching Bill Nighy and will generally watch whatever he's in.

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  6. Oh, Pip! I have to say I really enjoyed that adaption even though it was campy. And yeah, the end was RIDICULOUS. But it did inspire me to reread the book, so that's a good thing.

    Did you see the adaptation of The Mystery of Edwin Drood?

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  7. Come to think of it Tasha, it was probably you who made the comment about Pip and Estella!

    I've never even heard of the Drood adaptation – the obvious question is, does it have an ending? 😉

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