There’s something about Cornwall, isn’t there. It rivals Scotland in the imagination as a romantic setting for a novel. It's wild, rugged and magical. Perhaps it all started with Daphne Du Maurier and with Winston Graham’s Poldark books and the TV series. I know it did for me. I grew up on the original BBC dramatization of Poldark, though my teenage heart was mostly given to Dr Enys rather than to Ross. When the more recent dramatization came out I felt it couldn’t possibly match the first one but it carved its own niche in our affections as well as raising interest in the ancient skill of scything. And as for Daphne Du Maurier’s books, well, Frenchman’s Creek is still up there on my all-time favourites list, and Jamaica Inn not so far behind. Both Du Maurier and Winston Graham created the atmosphere of historic Cornwall so evocatively that I was desperate to visit (which was neither quick nor easy 40 years ago from Yorkshire!)
Nicola here. Today I am musing about life in the English village. So many of the historical romances I’ve read are set it cities such as London or Bath, or smaller towns like Brighton or Cheltenham. This makes sense. These places were the epicentres of activity in the Regency era, the venue for balls and other social events, a place where people might go for their health, for sea bathing or to take the spa waters. They were a good hunting ground for ladies looking to secure a titled husband, or for men seeking an heiress. It feels as though all the excitement is focussed on the towns and cities where there are lots of new people to meet and lots of things going on. After all, as Jane Austen wrote in Northanger Abbey: “If adventures will not befall a young lady in her own village, she must seek them abroad.”
In some ways, things haven’t changed much in two hundred years. When I was younger I lived in a number of different English cities: Leeds, London, Leicester. They were vibrant places with a mix of cultures and events that was very stimulating. Even today a trip to London, or Edinburgh, or Oxford is something of a treat. The combination of history and shopping is irresistible and much more exciting that what is on offer at home. So where does that leave the English village?
Nicola here. Today I’m talking about costume dramas old and new. It seems to me that after a long period with very little historical drama on TV and even less on film, there has been a revival of interest in the genre, at least from some television companies. Hurrah! It’s been a long time coming but to me the new historical series are very welcome and of course they bring with them a modern spin on an old genre.
I have such happy memories of the UK costume dramas of the 1970 and 80s. The epic Forsyte Saga had been running for a while when I became old enough to watch “grown up” TV and Upstairs Downstairs was also a feature of our Sunday Night viewing. The ultimate historical drama for me though was Poldark. Based on the novels of Winston Graham, it was for me the epitome of everything that a historical romance should be: the handsome hero, the feisty heroine, the wicked cousin, some smuggling thrown in and lots of passion and angst and intrigue. In those days I didn’t even notice the wobbling film sets and the terrible special effects. It was all about the characters and the story. This was the era of plentiful historical drama. There was Dick Turpin, based on the exploits of the legendary highwayman, and Smuggler, with Oliver
Tobias as a naval officer turned…well, smuggler. There was Arthur of the Britons (Oliver Tobias again, as a young King Arthur) and Robin Hood with Michael Praed, and many more.
I love a good period drama on TV. Or a so-so one, if it comes to that. I don't like the bad ones, but I'll probably watch them anyway. And for me, it's mostly pre-20th century. The History Channel in Canada was a disappointment because so often it was 20th century stuff. I know there's more of it, but for me, they could have scraped the barrel for every bit of truly historical fictional TV and had a committed viewer.
Here in the UK there's Yesterday, which is much the same, but does run more old period drama.
(It gave me a zen moment when we were visiting in March and I switched on the TV to see the message "Yesterday will return tomorrow at 5am." I sat in rapt contemplation. :))
Looking at their web site I found this fun quiz to find your historical hero.
There's probably still time to snap up a Christmas DVD, so I thought I'd seek out the best historical fiction TV any of us can remember. I started with the Wenches. They each gave me their suggestions and I was going to post their messages, but there was a lot of overlap so I'm going to list them with just an anonymous snippet of comment where appropriate.
Robin of Sherwood, with Michael Praed as Robin."The series had an interesting blend of mysticism and realism, including a Jewish family in one episode, for example Lovely and lyrical." "there's nothing to top "Robin of Sherwood," complete with that fabulous Clannad soundtrack."
I found this video which seems to be of outtakes. Lots of Michael, often looking relaxed and happy. I switched off the soundtrack, which wasn't Clannad (which might not have been suitable) but Abba's Waterloo, which definitely wasn't!
Blackadder with Rowan Atkinson. And occasionally with Hugh Laurie as here, not quite like house! "with their irreverent take on history, their sharp observation and their witty one liners are comedy classics for me." "History made funny AND believable – that's an accomplishment!"
The Tudors "is spectacular, though one needs stamina, and a lot of forgiveness history-wise, to keep up. "
Westerns. "Totally unhistorical, of course, but the romance and drama and wide open spaces appealed to my childish imagination " Maverick. The Wild, Wild, Wild West.Bonanza "soap on the ranch."
Foyles War, "the wonderful WWII crime series, with the even more wonderful actor, Michael Kitchen. He manages to convey everything with the most subtle facial movement, especially in times of deepest drama." And the great news is that there'll be more. Three more episodes in 2010. Long may it continue!
Upstairs Downstairs, life in Edwardian London. How many series did it go through?
Bleak House "very high quality, and the acting was superb."
Caefael Wonderful medieval who-dunnit, based on the books by Ellis Peters. "I loved the sense of place and the mysteries, and there was always a nice little romance, too. " "how excellent they were"
I have fond memories of the Onedin Line, about a ship owning family in Liverpool. I particularly liked Anne Stallybrass as the wife and felt the series lost its way when her character died. Of course I loved that it was an arranged marriage story in the beginning. 🙂
ROAR, Covington Cross, and for some, The Tudors.
Just about all of the picks above are British productions (and two of the three duds not.) How about some from other countries. Actually I strongly remember a French series from, probably, the sixties called Les Rois Maudit I see it's been remade.
I recommend following that link to the promo because it's great watching for medieval fans. I'll have to see if it's available with subtitles. The one I remember was in black and white, of course, which made it very gritty watching. Les Rois Maudit mean The Cursed Kings, BTW, and refers to the curse supposedly put on them by the Grand Master of the Templars.
So, which of these are your favourites, and do you have any other treasures to share with us? Are any of the above treats you haven't enjoyed yet that you'd like to see in your stocking on Christmas Day.
I just received copies of the anthology Chalice of Roses. I'll randomly pick the authors of two comments to receive copies. One from North America, one from anywhere else. You can read the opening of my story here.
So share your treats!
I'll draw on Christmas Eve to give everyone a chance.