Tuesday 20 February 2018

Sinister or saintly Tom: take your pick

Saintly: Tom Holland as Doctor Thorne.
Saintly: Tom Holland as Doctor Thorne.

John Boland

Two very different Tom Hollanders are currently competing with each other in Sunday night television dramas.

In BBC1's The Night Manager at 9pm, Hollander has been camply amusing as the main villain's suavely thuggish sidekick. And now at the same time on UTV Ireland he's playing the quietly benign, indeed almost saintly, title character (below) in Julian Fellowes' adaptation of Doctor Thorne.

I read the Anthony Trollope novel, along with his five other Barchester chronicles, some years back and thought it a lovely book: wise, witty and humane in its concerns about people and society. Without the authorial voice, though, it's been reduced here to a cross between cut-price Jane Austen and Fellowes' own Downton Abbey.

The premise is both simple and familiar - will Doctor Thorne succeed in enabling lowly niece Mary to marry aristocrat Frank? But in last Sunday night's first instalment there were too many reminders of other such television dramas.

There was Rebecca Front reprising her recent War and Peace role as a haughtily avaricious mother, while Phoebe Nicholls reprised all those bitchily venomous characters she's been playing for decades in period dramas. And Stefanie Martini as Mary registered as little more than pretty window-dressing.

And in its presentation, the whole thing seemed more intent on playing to a complacent Downton Abbey audience than in attempting to grapple with the nuances of Trollope's novel.

If it's grittiness you want, you won't want to miss Tuesday night's finale of Happy Valley (BBC1). Viewers are correct in their grumbles about the audibility of some of the dialogue, but this has been a tremendous second season - brutal and unsettling in many ways but also featuring a real and bracing affection for many of its characters, though not the vile Tommy, his deeply creepy female fan or the murderous detective who has tried to pin his crime on someone else.

How it all will be resolved is anyone's guess, but it will be unmissable.

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