T’other week, The Daily Mail (boo, hiss!) started giving away free DVDs of the first series of Lark Rise To Candleford… and while I was loathe to purchase the “newspaper” myself, I was more than happy to pick up two of their discs (episodes 1-4) from a charity shop, where they’d been dumped by the original owner. Hurrah! For those who don’t know, Lark Rise is a BBC costume drama, adapted from Flora Thompson’s trilogy of semi-autobiographical novels. The story is set at the end of the 19th century, and follows a teenage girl named ‘Laura Timmins’, as she leaves the small rural hamlet of Lark Rise to start a new life under the wing of her cousin, ‘Dorcas Lane’, who runs the local Post Office in nearby Candleford, a wealthy market town. The “action” (and I use the term loosely) then switches back and forth between the two locations, in occasionally abrupt and confusing ways, to highlight the cultural divisions between them. To be perfectly honest, while I can certainly see why it became such a success as a family-friendly Sunday night heartwarmer, I can’t say it’s the sort of show I’d want to watch on a regular basis… it’s all a little too twee for my taste.
Of course, I knew that would probably be the case before I’d even pressed “play” on my remote, so why watch it at all? Because Laura is played by Olivia Hallinan (of Sugar Rush fame), while Dorcas is played by Julia Sawalha (of AbFab fame)… that’s why! I think they both do fine work here, but the overly mannered dialogue adds an extra layer of affectation that prevented me from really losing myself in their performances. Still, I was struck once again by how darn adorable Hallinan is, shining with an effortless sweetness and charm whenever she’s on screen… and even the off-putting period costumes can’t distract from how pretty she is, with or without modern day make-up. There are also a number of scenes – such as the awkward carriage ride that she and Dorcas take to the village show with the local magistrate and his wife – where her “bunny-in-headlights” expression made me burst out laughing. From what I gather, the filming for Lark Rise was fairly time-consuming, so it’s no wonder she hasn’t been able to do much else in-between series… but now that the show has been so cruelly cancelled, I hope she scores a lot more comedy work.
French and Saunders once suggested that Sawalha would be doomed to play teenage daughters for the rest of her career… but thankfully, that isn’t the case. At first, it’s a little jarring to see her playing the maternal figure for a change, but she plays it very well here… and she only seems to get more beautiful with age. If there’s one thing that would make me curious to see the series through to the end, it’s the simmering romantic tension between Dorcas and the married magistrate, ‘Sir Timothy Midwinter’ (played by Ben Miles of Coupling fame). He’s such a suave and dashing chap… but also such a good egg, that I just know there must be some really juicy scenes in the pipeline, where he’s finally forced to choose between his wife and his long-term, childhood crush. According to Wikipedia, his character isn’t in the second series… so I’m guessing something kicks off before the end of this one? Dammit, now I’m really curious.
An honourable mention must also go to Mark Heap, as the stuffy, zealous postman ‘Thomas Brown’… who seems to be an ancestor of ‘Dr Statham’, the character Heap previously played in Green Wing… although I don’t really mean that as a criticism (if it ain’t broke, right?) Heap has the admirable ability to wring laughs out of relatively straight lines, simply by delivering them with an off-kilter intensity… so even when his character is being a total prig, he’s still strangely lovable. After all the fine work he’s put into various “cult” sitcoms and sketch shows (many of which were of a distinctly dark and surreal nature), it’s gratifying to see him appearing in such a mainstream show with mass-market appeal. More power to him, I say.