(and Treat Yourself to Some Great British Drama in the Process)
One of the easiest ways to wean yourself away from watching Outlander on a constant loop for the next few months is to check out some other great TV programmes that might take your mind of Outlander – at least for a while!
Poldark – BBC 1975-1977/2015-Present
Despite pretending to be 38 for most of this century, I am in fact old enough to remember the original series from the mid-1970s, and to be honest, I love both versions. I have one friend who steadfastly refuses to watch the new series regarding it as some kind of betrayal to her first schoolgirl crush, Robin Ellis, the actor who played the eponymous hero back in the day. I, of course, have no such qualms. Primarily because my first schoolgirl crush was Trampas (Doug McClure) in The Virginian.
Secondly, though Robin Ellis is a very manly and inherently sexy Ross Poldark, at the time I fancied the doctor Dwight Enys (Richard Morant), only for my particular schoolgirl crush to be cruelly disregarded when Morant was replaced by another actor in the second series. And yes, forty years on I still remember the devastating disappointment I felt. To be honest, that’s quite an achievement for a supposed 38 year old!
I recently watched the first season of the original Poldark series with said friend in just one sitting. (No mean feat as the first season consisted of 16 episodes!). We started late one afternoon and finished rather bleary-eyed at 5 in the morning. We just couldn’t help ourselves. We’d get to the end of one DVD and just had to put the next one on. Only sheer exhaustion and some semblance of sanity stopped us from starting season two.
And as for the latest version? Although a highly enjoyable watch, Poldark’s latest incarnation does speed though the story at about double the rate of the original series. Period drama is highly expensive to produce, and it would seem the BBC no longer has the purse strings it had in the 1970s or those of Outlander’s production company Starz that would enable it to greenlight a series which could take its time over 16 episodes as was the case in 1975 or as with the first season of Outlander for that matter.
However, Aidan Turner makes for a great Poldark and Eleanor Tomlinson is an enchanting Demelza. As someone who remembers the 1970s series with such great affection that’s quite a compliment, considering both Robin Ellis and the late Angharad Rees were a rather tough act to follow, excelling as they did as the original Poldark heroes.
Pride and Prejudice – BBC 1995
As we all know, the main conceit of Pride and Prejudice is that intelligent men are attracted to intelligent women with a mind of their own. Obviously as women of the world, we also know that’s not intelligent men per se – that’s usually intelligent, gay men. Nevertheless this is a great version of the Jane Austen classic with Jennifer Ehle in fine form as the feisty Elizabeth Bennett and Colin Firth as a rather sultry Darcy. It’s not for nothing that in terms of DVD/video sales this particular BBC TV series has outsold any other costume drama going.
Oh while we’re at it, check out Lost in Austen – Mammoth Screen 2008. It’s hysterical and a pure joy to watch as West London girl and avid Jane Austen fan, Amanda Price (Jemima Rooper) goes through a door in her bathroom and finds herself trapped in the world of Pride and Prejudice with rather interesting results!
North and South – BBC 2004
In the mould of Darcy, North and South’s hero, the seemingly harsh northern mill owner John Thornton (Richard Armitage) likewise seems moody and aloof. Of course the viewer soon realises (well a lot sooner than the heroine does at least) that underneath that moody exterior beats a heart of gold and an all-encompassing love for the Southern miss, Margaret Hale (Daniela Denby-Ashe).
Richard Armitage is spectacularly good at playing the brooding hero. Of course, in real life such brooding men are best to be avoided as, unlike in fiction, the heart of gold is never a dead cert.
Zen – BBC 2011
Not a historical period drama this time but stylish nonetheless, given it’s a police drama set in Italy. Cancelled inexplicably after only three episodes by someone who clearly lacked the refined tastes of a middle-aged woman such as myself, each 90 minute episode is a sheer delight to watch.
Rufus Sewell is one of the best actors around and not surprisingly is eminently watchable as Detective Zen, trying to solve crimes while sidestepping the double dealing and corruption that surrounds him and contending with his growing feelings for co-worker, Tania Moretti (Caterina Murino). And who said men couldn’t multi-task?
It looks good, the detective stories are intriguing and you have a loveable hero at its core. Trust me you won’t be disappointed. And once you’ve watched it, no doubt you too will be wondering who the hell was the idiot who cancelled it after just three episodes.
Edge of Darkness – BBC 1985
No romantic drama this time either, Edge of Darkness is more a cross between a police drama and a political thriller, but at its core is the love of a father for his brutally murdered daughter. The father, Ronald Craven, is played by the great Bob Peck who as a police officer decides to unofficially investigate the murder of his daughter, Emma (Joanna Whalley), an environmentalist activist.
It doesn’t take him long to come face to face with government cover ups and the machinations of the nuclear industry. Made in the mid-80s, Edge of Darkness is definitely a product of its times, Thatcher’s Britain, but it is still an intriguing watch. Not only for the picture it paints of the British state as a law unto itself but also for the bravura performances of Peck and Joe Don Baker as the renegade CIA agent, Darius Jedburgh.
State of Play – BBC 2003
If Edge of Darkness has a modern equivalent then it surely must be State of Play. At its centre it too has another political conspiracy theory though this time the baddie of the piece isn’t the nuclear industry but the oil business. And like Edge of Darkness it also has a great actor at its heart, John Simm as journalist Cal McCaffrey who uncovers corruption while investigating the murder of the mistress of a long-time friend of his and hot-shot politician Stephen Collins (David Morrisey). Things are complicated further given that Cal still holds a torch for Collins’ wife, Anne (Polly Walker). Great writing, great acting, a twist at the end that no one sees coming and the added bonus of Bill Nighy as Cameron, Cal’s editor. Yet another fine example of British drama at its best.
And if you’re still suffering from Droughtlander then join me and Jen Brister for our Outlander podcast. Listen in as we try (in vain) to remember what happens in what episode, I bang on about Sam Heughan, and Jen takes the mick out of me while I cackle occasionally in the background. What’s not to like???
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