Saturday, April 28, 2012

Starting all over again: "Lark Rise to Candleford"


It’s a remarkable thing when what you’ve been meditating on and practicing, important truths of human nature—identity, humility, sorrow, betrayal, forgiveness, understanding, patience and love—are suddenly demonstrated by people with real faces, in real situations. Never mind that it’s TV, and fictionalized. This is training of the highest order.

In the last few weeks when Don and I got home from work, after we walked the property and then made supper, we sat down with our food to an episode or two of a British “costume” drama. I rarely watch TV. But as my friend Arti at Ripple Effects said not too long ago, How are you holding up while you wait for the third season of “Downton Abbey”? Well, while waiting we queued up several other BBC costume dramas (thanks to our daughter Lesley’s recommendations) on Netflix. (I posted about “Little Dorrit” here; I love not having to wait a week between episodes, or for the next season months later.) Next was “Lark Rise to Candleford,” and now that we have finished it, I want to tell you that this show is affecting me so much that I am channeling characters in my job and relationships.

The Lark Rise series is based on a trilogy of semi-autobiographic novels by Flora Thompson, written in the 1930s and '40s about her life in a rural hamlet in the late 19th century. The setting is Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire, England, with serene and sublime rural scenery. Lark Rise is a tiny hamlet of families of farmers and craftspeople, and Candleford is a town eight country miles away where fashion and progress are edging their way in. Young Laura of the hamlet goes off to work at the post office in Candleford as an apprentice to her mother’s cousin, the postmistress Dorcas Lane. Thus begins our witness of relationships between the folk of Lark Rise and the folk of Candleford, a sort of lateral Upstairs Downstairs footpath.

Queenie and Alf of the hamlet Lark Rise

Each character is flawed and deeply developed through the four seasons; they model how to push through problems and meet one another with tough love. No one is spared humiliation or failure. There are wise souls in the hamlet, and there are fools. Likewise, you will find the same mix in Candleford, as in all places. When the hamlet and town folk meet, class distinctions and prejudice surface. Society’s rules get challenged. Neighbors help neighbors at home, and between town and hamlet; they hurt them too. They live Rumi’s advice: “Be generous and grateful. Confess when you’re not" (from his poem "The Well"). And then like the old Jerome Kern song says, they pick themselves up, dust themselves off, and start all over again.

Looking for wisdom, I channel Dorcas Lane, postmistress at the center of Candleford life to whom everyone goes with problems. When a student comes into my office for advice on what to do when she has gotten herself into a mess with a professor, missing class, handing in a paper late, threatening to fail, I ask myself, What would Miss Lane say? You can laugh with me when I tell you that when I do find something to say out of her deep wisdom, I often feel my head tip just so, and my voice lilt like hers. “You have to go meet with him, and see if you can set it right. It might not be too late, mmm?” The other character I channel is Queenie Turrill (in the previous photos, above, played with effortless perfection by Linda Bassett), the elderly Zen beekeeper in Lark Rise who opens her home to anyone who needs her, which they often do. She is the center of the hamlet as Miss Lane is of the town. She teaches me not to take myself too seriously, to live in the moment, and to connect with nature. Both Miss Lane and Queenie have failings. A thread through the series is Miss Lane's "one weakness" which accumulates into many weaknesses. I'm not the center of anyone's universe but my own, but I do have about 700 students who turn to me for advice. I also have a grandson who is listening and watching as his little life unfolds. Sometimes the best advice comes out of one's own failings.

Four seasons, forty episodes, 2008 to 2011, and one actor shared with Downton Abbey: Brendan Coyle (Mr. Bates in “Downton Abbey,” Robert Timmins in “Lark Rise to Candleford”). Another actor, the most important one in the series for me, Julia Sawalha, who plays Dorcas Lane, is shared with BBC’s 1995 six-episode TV series “Pride and Prejudice” (which I've watched a dozen times at least): she was Elizabeth Bennet’s sister Lydia, the air-headed flirt who ran off with Wickham. It's illuminating how Sawalha pulls off extreme traits of idiot recklessness in Lydia and prudent serenity in Miss Lane.

The writing of Bill Gallagher’s screenplays is some of the best I have ever seen on film. Every episode made me weep (and often Don too). At the end of an hour’s watch, Don and I would look at one another, stunned that an easier and more clich├ęd line or closing had not been written, and that the writing was so intensely satisfying. Insights are astute and deep. This is not only for women. My husband got annoyed whenever the next DVD was delayed. Directed by Charles Palmer.

I welcome suggestions for other series. Next on our queue is "Cranford" but I am sure we'll start this one all over again at some point.

top photo: ChurchCrawler at flickr



ellen abbott said...

The thing I like about English dramas is how real the actors are...unenhanced, wrinkled, bad teeth and all.

Ruth said...

True, as so elegantly parodied by Austin Powers!

California Girl said...

Ruth, I just had my husband comment on one of the blogs. He didn't know where to find the comment section til I told him to click on the 12 comments & 0 reactions. When he did, he then had to sign in to Disqus using an ID based on a number of identities including Blogger. After he did that, he was able to comment and post.

Does that help?

hedgewitch said...

This sounds wonderful, Ruth. It's truly a work of art when one starts to not only believe in the characters, but assimilate them. I've always had a strong attraction to that era(I think it's the clothes!;-) ) I have no trouble reading and loving its vast body of formal and classic literature, from Elliot and Hardy to Austen, less so than with most modern works, and I love the 'adventure' titles from authors like Stephenson and Kipling even more. It was a various and rich time of social change and expansion under all the strait-laced conventions, and this series sounds just delectable. I may have to revive our netflix subscription for it. Sometimes you just have to think Delderfield was right, God *is* an Englishman. ;_) Thanks, Ruth.

Rubye Jack said...

You make me wish for BBC access.

Babs-beetle said...

This was one of my favourites. I don't watch much TV, but never missed a episode of this.

I was so sad when it came to an end. It felt like I'd lost a whole bunch of friends, if that doesn't sound too silly.

erin said...

i'm incredibly amazed at the thoughtlessness of television in north america. i don't watch often but i tried to the other night. i kept shouting at the t.v., (much to my children's embarrassment and twisted satisfaction at having proof that i am crazy) why are you treating me as though i'm stupid? why are you talking down? do you want me to be dumb? (the answer, of course, being yes.)

these series sound fresh, entertaining and holy god, instructive:)

thank you)))
my children thank you too


The Broad said...

I liked this series very much. For all the reasons you have mentioned. Another series you might like, if you have not already seen it is 'Cranford' with Judi Dench. It has much of the flavour of Larkrise to Candleford and came out around the same time. There was a follw-up series called 'Return to Cranford'. Many people in England were annoyed when the BBC decided to cancel 'Larkrise' -- They claim that these costume dramas are too expensive. Personally, I think it was because they weren't given a rise in the cost of a TV license and were punishing the public! The woman who plays Dorcas Lane first came to the public's attention in a comedy series 'Absolutely Fabulous' -- I can't tell you how different that role was!!

JeannetteLS said...

well, I'm with Erin about television in North America. I think, based on what you've written, that I must find this series, too.

My sister and I found that we often cited works of fiction when it came to trying to be better people, or to understand other people. While some laughed at us, and we laughed at one another, it worked. It still does.

George said...

Margaret and I are deeply engrossed in Downton Abbey—via Netflix. We just finished Episode Five and are dreading its coming to an end. It's a relief to know that Lark Rise to Candleford is waiting in the wings.

Like you, I don't watch a great deal of television, but I would surely watch more if we had greater access to well-written, magnificently acted dramas like those produced by the Brits.

rippleeffects said...

Upon your recommendation in your comment on my Downton Abbey post, I borrowed Little Dorrit from the library and thoroughly enjoyed it. Why did I miss it? I kept asking myself... the same as I missed the BBC Pride & Prejudice in 1995, and of course, in recent years I've more than compensated by rewatching the DVD's numerous times.

Your appreciation of Lark Rise to Candleford is well analysed and presented here, and I must try to get hold of that although finishing it all is a long commitment. But, I like Brendan Coyle from DA, and love to see how Lydia from P & P matures into Miss Lane.

And just today I got from the library (after a long line of holds) the bio Lady Almina and the real Downton Abbey: The Lost Legacy of Highclere Castle by the Countess of Carnarvon, who took over the tenureship of the castle in 2001. So now that would be a wonderful read to prepare for Season 3. ;)

GailO said...

From the day Downtown Abbey started I was completely in I have been in the past with so many costume dramas I found on PBS starting with Upstairs,Downstairs when I was in college. Larkrise to Candleford is one that I have only seen in bits and pieces here and there though...I will have to change that I can see!

I love that watching British TV is like watching repertory theater, actors and actresses show up in so many different types of roles.

Loved Little Dorrit!

The Solitary Walker said...

Agree completely — the series was brilliantly done.

Ruth said...

CG, unfortunately I am still unable to comment!

Hedge, I'm with you about the clothes! And the pace of life, I think, and in this case, the countryside. 18th and 19th century lit were always my loves, those you listed included. I would read far more novels now if Austen were still writing. Your comment about Delderfield's statement about God reminds me of the cute BBC plug in the preview part of the DVDs, wherein a Monty Python-type voice invites you to view all things BBC, speaking to an American audience.

Ah, Rubye, I'm sorry for you!

Ruth said...

Babs, I'm so glad you watched it too. And no, that you felt so connected with the characters does not sound silly. I say that because I don't want to sound silly if I tell you that after watching an episode, Don and I would talk for some time about what this or that character should do, etc. And then we would laugh and say, it's a TV show! :-)

erin, yes, much of it is so inane and insulting. For the most part I've given up. There are some good series here and there, usually on AMC or HBO; I hear about them, but I don't watch. As with novels, I seem to only want British stories from the 19th century or before. What does this say about me? I hope you will have many weeks and months of not shouting at the TV, and that your children will be relieved. xoxo

Ruth said...

The Broad, so glad you watched it too. And yes, Cranford is next on our queue, at our daughter's urging. I would watch everything Judi Dench plays. My daughter and I have discussed the sudden end of Lark Rise, and speculated on the reasons. One such speculation was that Brendan Coyle was taken away to "Downton Abbey" in the last season. And I read up on Sawalha and saw that "Absolutely Fabulous" is her most famous role. It really did take me some time to get used to her as Dorcas Lane, after Lydia! She is a fine actress.

Jeannette, thank you for what you said about fictional characters being role models. I think it's one of the reasons I value fiction at all, is the ways its characters represent us in our human exchange.

Ruth said...

George, I am amazed at Downton Abbey and the fine story telling. In just a few minutes with each character in each episode I come to care so thoroughly about them! By the way, my daughter recently posted a question on Facebook asking for recommendations for other British series. She has seen many, but the list of unknowns she received is quite something. I can send it to you, so that you and Margaret will not pine away your evenings listlessly. I especially enjoy seeing the same actors appear in the different series, as GailO mentioned in her comment.

Ruth said...

Arti, well I have missed more of these BBC series than I have seen, apparently. Which is wonderful! I, too, have watched P & P at least a dozen times. Lesley watched it a dozen more staying up all night working on projects in art school.

You say finishing Lark Rise is a long commitment, but I assure you that it will feel too fleeting, and you will wish it to be much, much longer.

The book you got from the library sounds interesting. I wonder if it will be as riveting as the TV show?

Ruth said...

GailO, ahhh, how we Americans have been blessed with British television, eh? Don and I watched "Brideshead Revisited" when we were first married, and we were utterly hooked. Please do watch Lark Rise from start to finish. Every episode is splendid, and I felt uplifted with each one.

I so agree about seeing the actors cast in these various dramas come up again in different roles. It threw me off the first time, whenever that was. But I have learned to adjust to it. So glad you loved Little Dorrit! Matthew McFadyen is one of those perennial actors. I've seen him previewed in another series, which I can't remember. And I saw Tom Courtenay play in London theatre, hich was a thrill!

Robert, I'm glad you agree! And may I thank you and your countrymen and women for these marvelous shows?

steven said...

ruth - i'm grateful for this because i remember reading lark rise to candleford ages ago and at the time i was immersed in all things english and rural and from a time when england was a country i recognized in my own experiencing . . . . i'm going to see what i can see about wacthing this series . . . . thankyou . . . steven

Marcie said...

There's something about British TV and drama that just isn't done here in the USA. Love how you've described your experiences of watching it - here.

Ginnie said...

If only we could swap series, Ruth, because we have Cranford here and loved it, because of Dame Judi Dench. But now that we know about Lark Rise, we will definitely keep our eyes open for it. We find these BBC series here in the Netherlands all the time. But it's especially good to hear when one is recommended! Thank you.

Vagabonde said...

I read your last four posts with pleasure. I particularly enjoyed your post on “saudade.” Growing up in France we had housekeepers from Portugal. They listened to fados and this started me listening to Amalia Rodrigues in the 50s who embodied the saudade feelings. Another singer who just passed away was from Cape Verde, Cesaria Evora. She sang so well about saudade that I took Portuguese lessons to understand her better. Bloggy friend Friko had a post back in 2009 about the German “heimat” which means about the same thing – both cannot be easily translated in English. Saudade or heimat for a place, a home where people understand you, where you have no foreign accent, where the food, the humour, the land is familiar, where you spent your childhood. People who left the country where they were brought up, unless they were very unhappy there, will get saudade or heimat I believe, that is natural. Sometimes I do not read blogs on Paris on purpose because I get too homesick – I know tourists love the city because it is so attractive, but for me, it is home it is where everything is familiar and I understand the culture, where I don’t have feelings of alienation. So I do get “saudade.” In New Orleans last week I talked in French to the taxi driver – he was from Haiti and his French was perfect. I told him I was so happy – it was the first time I had spoken in French since May 2011. I heard a lot of French people in New Orleans.

I do not watch much TV but I like to watch English series. When Downton Abbey stopped this year I read the book Lady Almina and the real Downton Abbey – I liked it. Years ago there was another series I watched and never missed, it was called The Duchess of Duke Street. Then I also read the book about the real Duchess of Duke Street – fascinating.

Margaret said...

I am SO EXCITED to start this. And I have not seen ONE "Downtown Abbey"... my mom raves about it! I will get started this weekend! Thanks. Going to Netflix NOW.

rippleeffects said...


I just learned about this UK TV series in the 1980's Lost Empires: with a young Colin Firth and Lawrence Olivier. Yes, and it's the same setting as Downton Abbey in terms of historical period, but story takes place on the stage and theatre. Looks like a must-see for me. ;) But it's hard to come by, none in the library.

Mystic Meandering said...

I love your little gems of wisdom hidden here :) Particularly - "that sometimes the best advice comes from our own failings." And I love how "the story" becomes the teaching! I need to watch British TV! :)

Montag said...

I think we shall follow you to those hamlets of delight. You have persuaded.

Chrissy said...

I have always loved the brit-coms... now, I will have to try the dramas! The description of the particular ones appear to be right up my alley. I will be signing up for Netflix soon to enjoy these serieses!

Jane Lancaster said...

Hi Ruth, I did enjoy Downton Abbey very much, haven't seem Larkrise but Cranford I had to abandon as I've worked with so many of the women that appear in it and experienced their real life bitchery to such a degree it was like reliving it all over again!

These are the American TV shows I've thought excellent.. The Wire, Friday Night Lights, Lost and now watching Battlestar Gallactica all superbly done.

Jeanie said...

I was catching up, reading through your poetry (interesting on the plagarism post!) and stopped here enthralled. I thought Iknew about every brit-dram series! Not this one -- and it looks great! Oh, dear -- now I know what I'll be watching all summer!

Luke Morgan said...

Erm the British call them period drama's mainly but rarely costume drama's

Angel Heart Radio® said...

I have 90 minutes of season 4 left of Larkrise to watch...and as I don't want to finish it, I'm finding other things to do! This is the second time I have watch Lark Rise to Candleford, and I have enjoyed it every bit as much as the first time. I adore the characters, and love the time I spend in their company. Does anyone have any suggestions for more 'like minded' series?

Thank you for sharing your thoughts with me Ruth, I've really enjoyed reading your Blog