In Doctor Thorne, Julian Fellowes casts off the shadow of Downton Abbey with a gritty drama set among the recovering addicts of an inner-city drug rehabilitation centre.
Nah, not really. It’s actually a period piece about really, really posh people, set in a series of lavish stately homes that make Downton look like a Skegness retirement bungalow.
Adapted from Anthony Trollope’s 1858 novel, Doctor Thorne serves up the same well-rehearsed themes of money, marriage and status familiar from a hundred other bonnets and bustles sagas.
In this one, it’s the very grand but very broke Gresham family who need to marry off their son to the highest bidder. But he only has eyes for Mary Thorne, the lovely but penniless niece of the local sawbones (Tom Hollander), whose family history would have the people at Debrett’s reaching for the smelling salts. (Her mother was a village girl who got pregnant out of wedlock, while her father, Dr Thorne – not Tom Hollander, a different Dr Thorne – was killed by her uncle – not Tom Hollander, a different uncle – while ‘in drink’. It’s Emmerdale in corsets, basically.)
On the scale of TV doctors, this is more in the league of Martin than Foster or Who, and at times feels in danger of tipping over into outright parody: when someone declared, ‘Oh fiddle-faddle!’, I felt sure French and Saunders were about to emerge from behind a tapestry, twiddling a parasol. The somewhat… persistent musical score is also rather distracting – like trying to watch telly while a string quartet plays in your living room.
But it’s a handsome production, with a first-rate cast, led by Hollander – who flounced out of a drawing room with the most indignant ‘Good day to you, Madame!’ you’ll hear this year – and newcomer Stefanie Martini as the witty and wise Mary.
Ian McShane rumbles magnificently as the dissolute moneylender in whose hands all the plot strings are slowly being drawn together, while Rebecca Front revives her scheming matriarch act from War & Peace, to winning effect. Phoebe Nicholls, meanwhile, has clearly been taking lessons from Maggie Smith, stealing the show from under everyone’s noses as the delightfully imperious Countess de Courcey.
In summary: top-notch Sunday night fiddle-faddle.
DC’s Legends of Tomorrow
In this budget Avengers, a bunch of spandex superheroes team up to save the world from an evil dictator called Vandal Savage. (With a name like that, his parents were just asking for trouble, really.) The dialogue is so clunkingly awful (‘You wish to engage in they very sort of manipulation of time we are sworn to prevent!’), your heart really goes out to the cast – especially Brandon Routh, who’s gone from playing Superman, the daddy of all comic book heroes, to some dude called Atom. I bet he feels this small.
A young woman escapes after being helped captive in a cellar for 13 years, and is returned to a family desperate to believe this really is their missing daughter. But when cracks start to appear in her story, the police begin to wonder if she’s really who she says she is.
This is the grimly compelling premise for a drama so relentlessly downbeat, it feels almost voyeuristic to watch, anchored by a hypnotic leading performance from Josie Comer, who haunts every scene like a living ghost. Unbearably tense, utterly gripping.
Published in Waitrose Weekend, March 10, 2016
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