Wednesday 23 October 2019

Not every Great drama needs a country house . . . But it helps

Colin Firth as Mr Darcy in Pride and Prejudice
Colin Firth as Mr Darcy in Pride and Prejudice

Joe O'Shea

The original Poldark was one of the landmark costume dramas in TV history. But what would a Top 10 of Period Drama look like?

10 I, Claudius (BBC, 1976)

Period dramas don't have to be about English country houses, butlers and heroines in bonnet.

In the mid-1970s, the BBC thrilled TV audiences with an audacious, "orgies & togas" adaptation of the Robert Graves' books charting the unlikely rise of Claudius to absolute power in ancient Rome. Derek Jacobi gave a stunning performance as the stuttering, wily Claudius. HBO in America has been working on a remake.

9Upstairs Downstairs (ITV, 1971-75)

One of the all-time classics and the grand-daddy of Downton, the original adaptation of the tale of servants and masters in Belgravia, London, in the first three decades of the 20th Century enthralled millions of viewers. A 2010 remake was not a roaring success.

8 Bleak House (BBC, 2005)

Writer Andrew Davies, the master of the genre, gave us perhaps the best ever Dickens adaptation on TV with this 15- episode series.

Bleak House departed from the "one-hour, Sunday Night" formula and instead was broadcast in soap-opera style, with twice-weekly, half-hour episodes that managed to follow an enormous cast of characters without drowning the drama and suspense in endless plot exposition. Charles Dance and Gillian Anderson (of X-Files fame) starred.

7 Mad Men (AMC, 2007-)

Not a butler or country estate in sight, but with its lavish wardrobes, painstaking attention to period and timeless, universal themes, could Don Draper and Co be living in anything other than a costume drama?

6 Poldark (BBC, 1975-77)

Dark, enthralling and with two central protagonists who do not set out to be loved by viewers, Poldark remains one of the classics and well worth a revival.

5 Middlemarch (BBC, 1994)

Part of the new wave of costume dramas that hit TV in the 1990s, this adaptation of the George Elliot novel from 1871 proved that TV audiences could fall in love with a complicated, literary classic from a bygone age. Rufus Sewell starred.

4 The Forsyth Saga (BBC, 1967)

Based on the early 20th-Century novels of Nobel Prize-winning English author John Galsworthy, the hugely popular, 26-part TV adaptation by the BBC in 1967 set the template on costume drama since. It was the first British drama to achieve huge success in the US and also the first sold into the Soviet Union.

3 Pride & Prejudice (BBC, 1995)

Andrew Davies wrote the brilliant screenplay, capturing the humour and intelligence of Austen while emphasising the passion for modern audiences.

The chemistry between leads Jennifer Ehle and Colin Firth, as Elizabeth Bennet and Mr Darcy (who smoulders like no Darcy before) captivated audiences. And the scene where Mr Darcy emerges from the lake is one of the iconic moments of modern TV drama.

2 Downton Abbey (ITV, 2010-)

Snobs may scorn its middle-brow appeal and audiences tire of the occasionally random plot developments and sudden departures of much-loved characters. But Downton does exactly what a great Costume Drama should, entertain and enthral with pure escapism. Downton would be number one if it wasn't for . . .

1 Brideshead Revisited (1981, ITV)

The Costume Drama was feared dead until this lavish, epic, brilliant adaptation of Evelyn Waugh's story of friendship, religion, love and loss amongst the doomed upper classes of Britain between the wars wowed the world in 1981. It made Jeremy Irons (as Charles Ryder) an international star.

All of the dramas featured in the Top 10 are available on box-set and many for download on pay-TV services.

Irish Independent

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