Thomas: And now you have saved me.
Miss Lane: Well, isn’t that how it works? We take turns in saving one another. I think they call it fellowship.
Based on Flora Thompson’s autobiographical novel, the BBC’s Lark Rise to Candleford follows the lives of the residents of the small hamlet, Lark Rise, and its nearby town, Candleford in the late 19th century. With a host of characters spanning both places, the series manages to bring them together often and sometimes in surprising ways to create a community from both places.
When the series begins, it’s Laura Timmins (Olivia Hallinan) that goes from Lark Rise to Candleford in order to work for her mother’s cousin, Dorcas Lane (Julia Sawalha), the postmistress. While Laura may be the initial connection between the two communities, she quickly becomes one of many as Lark Rise and Candleford grow more and more intertwined. As with any cast of this size, it’s impossible to touch upon all that happens to each one, but it should be noted that they all receive their spotlight moments as full, three dimensional characters.
The cast is plentiful, but some of the highlights include Queenie (Linda Bassett) and Twister Turrill (Karl Johnson), an older Lark Rise couple; Pearl (Matilda Ziegler) and Ruby Pratt (Victoria Hamilton), a pair of identically-dressed Candleford sisters; Thomas Brown (Mark Heap), the God-fearing postman; Alf Arless (John Dagleish), a decent, hardworking field worker; and Minnie (Ruby Bentall), Miss Lane’s maid. These are characters that over the course of four seasons grew and had moments of real connection with one another in ways that felt earned and in turn, offered affective moment
Laura’s parents, Robert (Brendan Coyle) and Emma Timmins (Claudie Blakley), are also key members of the Lark Rise community. Robert’s liberal views and his inflated sense of pride get him into trouble throughout the series, while Emma’s struggles as a mother and wife with more ambition than time or circumstance allows, both serve as Laura’s support system, as well as her direct tie to her past as a “hamlet girl”.
As with many of the BBC period productions, issues of class play a key role. The poor residents of Lark Rise are frequently at odds, both financially and philosophically, with their more well-to-do Candleford counterparts. Thankfully, this is not an overly serious, stuffy series intent on delivering a heavy-handed message with each episode. Producer Grainne Marmion says in one of the special features: “What we didn’t want was we didn’t want to produce a mannered period drama. We wanted something that was a little bit roughed up at the edges”.
There is a practicality to life in this period that comes from the sheer difficulty of life at the time, particularly for the poor. Those in Lark Rise struggle daily with providing the basic necessities for their families, offering less opportunity for frivolity. However, that’s not to say that there is no happiness in the small village. On the contrary, Lark Risers manage to still enjoy such things as music, games, and conversation, in spite of all the other things they lack.
The series also has a touch of the supernatural. There is regular talk and sightings of spirits, as well as tea leaves readings. Queenie is perhaps the best encapsulation of these two seemingly disparate sides. She is content in her life and appreciative of all the small moments of joy that many take for granted, but she’s not above believing in magic. The wonderful thing about Queenie is that she has an understanding of the interconnectedness of life and therefore, can see how the practical and the magical can coexist side by side. Bassett does a wonderful job of imbuing Queenie with a strength and wisdom that is only matched by her willingness to help those around her.
Throughout the 40 episodes that make up the complete series, the true center is Dorcas Lane and her post office. Not only is the post office the site of so many dramas and joys, the series regularly uses misunderstandings and bad timing as catalysts for much of the hi-jinks and comedies of error that occur. A missing parcel or letters read by the wrong person are just a couple of examples of the ways in which many confrontations, often less than friendly, happen.
In addition, Miss Lane is fair-minded and inclusive, frequently to the disapproval of some of her Candleford friends, making her the ideal person to offer advice, both solicited and unsolicited. While she sometimes gets into trouble for meddling, Miss Lane’s intentions are always good and Sawalha gives her a mischievous earnestness that is equal parts endearing and comical.
Lark Rise to Candleford is an intensely character-driven series and that is exactly what makes it as engaging and involving as it is. Some characters may come and go – and leave an impact – but it’s the core group that leaves the most lasting impressions; class distinctions that are often meaningless, the struggles against the time they live in and the encroaching future, and above all the importance of family and community. Lark Rise To Candleford exemplifies the value and necessity of close relationships amongst neighbors and in doing so, carries through with a skillful blend of comedy and drama.
The DVD set contains some special features, including behind the scenes and historical context featurettes, and are a nice addition to the collection.