BBC Period Dramas Shadowed By Downton Abbey
Stick a broad in a petticoat, add a watery script and a few faux antiques, shove it in a primetime slot with at least one recognised face and the BBC thinks we’ll lap it up with vigour, but they couldn’t be more wrong. After the failed revamp of Upstairs, Downstairs and the dreary plotline boring even the actors in the honeycomb-coloured Lark Rise to Candleford, viewers want more for their money.
Or at least, I know I do. I want to be impressed.
The spectacular Downton Abbey from ITV captured the imaginations and audiences of the British public with that same style and sophistication displayed in the 1981 ITV series of Brideshead Revisited. Downton Abbey was slick, true to the time period and effortlessly witty. The acting was superb and it was evident that those working on the show enjoyed it. I audibly gasped when some elements of the interwoven plots unfolded: it was one of the more brilliant pieces of television produced in 2010 and the next series is eagerly awaited not only in Britain but abroad.
As for the BBC’s Upstairs, Downstairs aired over the festive period, Keeley Hawes proved a bitter disappointment, managing to rehash her role as DCI Drake in Ashes to Ashes but in a more annoying, less convincing way. The dilapidated house made an icon due to the original show should have stayed a ruin, for the first episode did not capture the original themes or offer a unique twist on the much loved classic series.
As for Lark Rise to Candleford, currently on the evening Sunday slot on BBC One, it’s dwindled. At first it was promising with a subtle charm and British humour about it which made it infinitely watchable. To a large portion of its watchers (those pensioners who can’t remember what they had for dinner, let alone previous plotlines) might notice no difference, but one sits sourly at its core. It feels watered down and there have been chances missed for some more gripping plotlines. The most exciting part of the last episodes was Gabriel’s (newly disgraced nobleman who has recently taken up work in Candleford) revelation that he saw another man visiting his wife’s grave, but we never saw that scene or those tense hours he must have lurked and waited by her tomb for this mysterious stranger to appear through the mist once more.
Period dramas aren’t just about the detail of the sets of the pretty costumes or being historically accurate, nor should they be about Colin Firth getting soaking wet in a white, billowing shirt (though that is a plus). For a period drama to be truly successful, especially as a series in a primetime slot, it has to give a flavour of the times, the hardships, the scandals and a true sense of that class system which still echoes across in our modern society.