Thursday, May 5, 2011

South Riding - Episode One - A Review

South Riding
Substituting for Mary Simonsen is Miss Crankypants

I watched the first episode of South Riding last night. There is much to admire, especially the acting of Anna Maxwell Martin (also of North and South) and the Yorkshire scenery, but in my opinion, it really falls short. In the first place, it is highly predictable. I am not opposed to highly predictable dramas: boy gets girl, boy loses girl, boy wins girl back, but it doesn't work here because every scene is telegraphed. There are no surprises.

I also had a hard time with David Morrissey's character. He was angry right out of the gate, but way too angry. We soon learn the reasons, but he's so nasty that you are less sympathetic to his difficulties. And Anna's speech at her job interview regarding The Great War is ridiculous. She would never have gotten the job.

Since I'm nitpicking, here are some pet peeves:

(1)  A lot of time is spent on the misery of people living in The Shacks, a slum near the North Sea. But who are these people? Are they the working poor, miners, farm laborers? I want to know their story so I can cheer them on.

(2) These are more irritants than anything else. When Robert Carne (Morrissey) is a young man, he has jet black hair. But when we see him fifteen years later, he has sandy brown hair. Does he use Grecian Fomula for Men? Also, when Anna's clothes get wet, she changes into the clothes of Carne's young daughter. Anna is surprised they fit. She's not the only one. The girl is a head shorter and a size smaller than Anna's character!

(3) It is very choppy. There are too many characters and a subplot with the town's sanctimonious prig who gets the town harlot pregnant did not draw me in. I don't know them. Why should I care? However, the actress playing the harlot does an excellent job of coming off as a simple girl, easily "won" over--all in about a minute's time.

The screenplay is by Andrew Davies, but it lacks his magic touch. There are no light moments to relieve the heavy drama.

If I sound cranky, it's because I am. I was hugely disappointed in Upstairs/Downstairs, and for many of the same reasons, the biggest one being too many characters that I don't know well enough to care about. But here's a link to an interview with Davies in which he discusses some of the difficulties he faced paring down a big book into three hour-long episodes.


  1. Hi Miss Crankypants!

    Love that moniker! I'm starting to feel like a dupe because I am so easily pleased. The BBC and PBS must love me because I just eat it all up.
    I guess it may be because I have roots in working class Northern England that I liked this one, or maybe it is true that if it moves and it's period, I'll watch it.

    Perhaps because you are an author yourself, you see other possibilities. I certainly don't see this one as a classic, but it did make me want to pick up the book. And possibly to tour the Yorkshire coast some day!


  2. Jenny, Sometimes I think being a writer has ruined me as a reader and a watcher of TV shows. I had hoped that the new headmistresses would have to earn her stripes, but she just waltzed in. Oh well! I did like Downton Abbey.