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Lark Rise to Candleford Reviews

Ask me a few years ago if I would have watched a programme such as Lark Rise To Candleford and I would have laughed in your face. It’s not the sort of show I would have thought would be entertaining and I can honestly say I would have automatically put it in the ‘boring’ pile without watching it..but then I did watch it and here I am writing this now.

Lark Rise To Candleford was first broadcast on BBC1 back in January 2008 though I was aware of it I didn’t watch it then. It wasn’t until I was flicking through the channels one dreary Sunday evening and I happened upon an episode from series two which was screened last year. I saw over half of it and was surprised at how absorbing and even more so; comical it was.

I made a snap decision to buy series one on DVD and a few days later when my play.com parcel popped through the letterbox I sat down to watch it..

‘Lark Rise’ is an adaption based on the trilogy of Flora Thompson’s semi-autobiographical novels. They are about her life growing up in the small hamlet town of Lark Rise and the wealthier neighbouring market town of Candleford and were published between 1939 and 1943. I have since purchased the trilogy but am yet to read them so I can’t make any comparisons between the book and the television programme at present.

The complete first series comes in a four disc set and features all ten episodes, which are listed below with a brief synopsis.

Episode one:
This is where we are introduced to young Laura Timmins. She and her family live in the hamlet of Lark Rise and we follow her moving to Candleford in this first episode to start a job as a post mistress in the Candleford post office which is run by their cousin Dorcas Lane.

Episode two:
We start to meet other characters in this episode (though many are not permanent) and this one features the current postwoman Mrs Macey who fears her life will be in tatters if word gets out in Candleford that her husband has escaped from prison. This follows Mrs Macey’s story and intertwines with the regular characters paving way for Laura’s future career as a postwoman.

Episode Three:
This episode features local widow Old Amos who sets tongues wagging by announcing his engagement to his maid Patty, as the locals feel she is just using him to get to his money. Also Laura’s father Robert Timmins, makes a stand by refusing to allow his children to sing in church in praise of the Tories. Again the characters of Old Amos and Patty are never mentioned again and are not regulars in the series.

Episode Four:
When a stranger arrives in Candleford searching for his daughters there’s shock from the Pratt sisters Ruby and Pearl when it turns out to be their father. Ruby is pleased to see him though Pearl is less forgiving as he deserted them many years back leaving them alone. The character of Caroline features more in this episode as she is being hunted by the bailiff for debts.

Episode Five:
Dorcas Lane is in this main story and is angry when a post office inspector insinuates she isn’t running the post office in the correct manner.

Episode Six:
Robert Timmins takes pity on a homeless family and takes them home for the night. In the morning however they have vanished leaving behind something..their little daughter, hoping that the Timmins can provide her with a better way of life. Lady Adelaide finds her wandering through the woods and decides she is perfect and announces to her husband Sir Timothy that she wishes to ‘keep’ her. Sir Timothy is far from pleased and tries to find the girls rightful family.

Episode Seven:
This one again features ‘filling in characters’ who are merely for storyline purposes only. The villagers of Lark Rise are horrified when they realise Susan Braby has been beaten up by her husband Sam and vow to help the couple sort things out once and for all. Lady Adelaide’s jealousy of Sir Timothy and Dorcas friendship is increasingly growing.

Episode Eight:
When a new teacher arrives in Lark Rise – Mr Delafield – he and Dorcas don’t see eye to eye. It’s quite soon clear though that they are more alike than each of them thought.

Episode Nine:
This was a mysterious episode and slightly spooky. It was about a piece of embroidery that ‘regular’ character Queenie finds on a grave. Her partner Twister is convinced if no one claims it they can sell it as it appears to be of value but is it cursed?

Episode Ten:
This is the last episode of the first series and sees the post office and the residents of both towns throwing a birthday party for Dorcas’s elderly cleaner Zillah but the party ends in sadness when Zillah passes away.

The cast is very strong and, oh here’s a list it’s easier to say who’s who!

Victoria “Queenie” Turrill (Linda Bassett) is the matriarch of Lark Rise and is married to Twister Turrill. She is the motherly figure who everyone goes to for advice. I like Queenie; she is a strong character who doesn’t take any nonsense from anyone.

Emma Timmins (Claudia Blakley) is Laura’s mother. She cooks and cleans and looks after her other 3 other children whilst trying to keep peace between husband Robert and well..everyone. Again she is another strong character who is likable

Robert Timmins (Brendan Coyle) is Laura’s father and has his family’s welfare and interests at heart which tends to land him in some slanging match with the residents. Robert is always right – so he thinks. I like the character of Robert because he always ends up getting involved in everything and his wife Emma seems to be the one who calms the situations down.

Alf Arless (John Dagleish) is Caroline’s son who ends up acting like the man of the family as their father is away at sea. I wasn’t too keen on the character of Alf in the first series as he just seemed to come across as a bit dopey and wimpy and wandered around after Laura with big puppy dog eyes. In series 2 and 3 the character came into his own though and he is now one of my favourites.

Caroline Arless (Dawn French) is fantastic! She is played superbly by Dawn French so you just know the character is going to be good. Dawn injects the humour and comedy (along with Twister Turrill) into this show and makes it so much more than another costume drama. The character of Caroline is the mother to several children with another on the way. Her husband is away at sea and responsibilities seem to fall on Alf as Caroline spends the bit of money they have for food and rent on anything but what it’s meant for.

Lady Adelaide Midwinter (Olivia Grant) is not a likable character to be honest. She comes across very cold and quite miserable but it becomes apparent she is desperate for a child and her husband seems to preoccupied with his old flame Dorcas Lane.

Laura Timmins (Olivia Hallinan) is the focal centre of the series as she is the main character. We first meet Laura when it’s decided now she is 16 she must go work in their cousin Dorcas’s post office in the more upmarket town of Candleford. At first she is adamant she doesn’t want to go but slowly changes her mind. Throughout the episodes we see the character grow up and have responsible duties and a completely different life to the simple one she led in the hamlet. I like Laura as she is a strong willed character and opinionated like her father who isn’t afraid of speaking up for herself.

Ruth “Ruby” Pratt (Victoria Hamilton) is the younger of the Pratt sisters and is the meeker one by far. Together with her sister Pearl they run the local dressmakers and are amusing in the fact they dress rather flamboyantly alike.

Thomas Brown (Mark Heap) is the local postmaster with a penchant for preaching the right and wrongs of Christianity on his delivery rounds.He is Dorcas Lane’s right hand man and very loyal. I wasn’t sure what to make of this character in the first few episodes but he is very funny and I did warm to him.

Twister Turrill (Karl Johnson) is married to Queenie and on first impressions he is scruffy, scrawny, lazy and opinionated – all of which are true! Twister is one of my favourite characters as he gets into some comical situations that make the programme what it is.

Sir Timothy Midwinter (Ben Miles) has a lot warmer personality than his wife Lady Adelaide. Much of this is to do with the fact he was brought up in Candleford so is *one of them* where his wife is from London and sees herself as an outsider. Sir Timothy spends his days innocently with Dorcas – in the post office or riding their horses. All this is seen as the norm for the residents but Lady Adelaide fears her husband is still in love with Dorcas (who he asked to marry in their youth but she declined due to their social statuses). Dorcas still carries a torch for Timothy as does he for her but with it being set in the end of the 19th century they are all very polite with each other just give each other longing looks over the post office counter.

Dorcas Lane (Julia Sawalha) is the strict but very kindhearted Post Office owner inherited from her late father. Dorcas is always at the centre of whats happening and is like Queenie in the aspect that people often turn to her for help and advice which she often gives out. Her catchphrase to just about anything offered to her is”..Well it is my one weakness”. All I can say is she must have a lot of weaknesses. A fantastic character that Sawalha carries off to perfection, Dorcas is the heart of Candleford and features in just about every episode.

Prudence “Pearl” Pratt (Matilda Ziegler) is Ruby’s elder sister and runs the dressmakers store with her. She is the primary decision maker much to Ruby’s annoyance. Any gossip is normally started or picked up by her and she comes across as cold and bitter which is explained in later episodes.

Zillah (Liz Smith) is Dorcas’s maid and cook. She has been at the post office for many years previously working for Dorcas Lane’s father. Dorcas doesn’t have the heart to let her go and she won’t retire. She is a feisty character and is played spot on by Liz Smith but you wouldn’t expect anything less from such a fine actress. A sad end to the last episode when she sits down at her birthday party to rest her eyes never to open them again.

After all that what do I think about the series? Well if you hadn’t guessed, I think it’s very good (never *said with sarcastic undertones*)! What stops it from being just another boring BBC costume drama is the humour and the fact it doesn’t take itself too seriously. It doesn’t pretend to be a ‘corsets and britches’ kind of show and that comes across well making it easy going Sunday night viewing.

The main characters often feature throughout each episode and then they get their own episode to showcase their story which gives us an insight into their backgrounds. The loudest character is probably Caroline as she gets into all sorts of situations trying to avoid the bailiff and being sent to debtors prison much to the frustration of the locals who are constantly helping her out. When I realised that Dawn French was amongst the fantastically assembled cast, I knew I was in for a treat as her character is large as life and twice as funny and I wasn’t disappointed. The only thing that let the next series down was the fact that the character of Caroline is only in a few of the episodes before disappearing completely. That I will worry about when I watch series two though!

The inside shots (or internal if we are being posh) were filmed in a warehouse whereas the villages of both Candleford and Lark Rise were erected from scratch. It’s unbelievable to think these buildings and towns even are not real as they are so incredibly authentic looking. They were created on farms in Wiltshire whereas the shots featuring Sir Timothy’s country manor were filmed at Chavenage House in Gloucestershire which makes sense rather than attempting to build from scratch.

Would I recommend this?
I never thought I’d be looking forward to sitting and watching this genre of programme but it’s very easy viewing. The characters are nearly all likable and each episode is easy to follow making it relaxed viewing. The episodes are narrated by Sarah Lancashire (supposedly the older Laura) who’s gentle
voice reflects on the storyline making it seem more believable it is being read from diary entries.

Some of the episodes are hard hitting featuring storylines like assault for example but it’s all done in a not too violent manner so you don’t feel uncomfortable with the scenes.

I enjoyed all the episodes on this DVD and whilst I am aware series three has just finished being broadcast I look forward to watching series two shortly on DVD.

The DVD contains ‘The making of’ which I haven’t watched yet so am unable to comment on.

Each episode is just under one hour long and I bought this from play.com for £14.99 though it can be found at different retailers for around the same price but it’s best to look around.

  Highly Recommended!