Reviews

Saving One Another in 'Lark Rise to Candleford: The Complete Collection'

This is a series that exemplifies the value and necessity of close relationships amongst neighbors and in doing so, carries through with a skillful blend of comedy and drama.


Lark Rise to Candleford: The Complete Collection

Distributor: BBC Warner
Cast: Julia Sawalha, Olivia Hallinan, Mark Heap, Linda Bassett, Karl Johnson, Brendan Coyle, Claudie Blakley, John Dagleish, Matilda Ziegler, Victoria Hamilton, Ruby Bentall
Network: BBC
Release date: 2011-04-05
Amazon
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.

8

In the wake of Malcolm Young's passing, Jesse Fink, author of The Youngs: The Brothers Who Built AC/DC, offers up his top 10 AC/DC songs, each seasoned with a dash of backstory.

Editor's Note: Originally published 30 July 2014.

10. “Bedlam in Belgium”
(Flick of the Switch, 1983)

This is a massively underrated barnstormer from the boys off the much-maligned (unfairly, I think) Flick of the Switch. The album was missing Mutt Lange, but the Youngs did have his very capable engineer, Tony Platt, as co-producer in the studio at Compass Point in the Bahamas. Tony’s a real pro. I think he did a perfectly fine job on this album, which also features the slamming “Nervous Shakedown”.

But what I find most interesting about “Bedlam in Belgium” is that it’s based on a fracas that broke out on stage in Kontich, Belgium, in 1977, involving Bon Scott, the rest of the band, and the local authorities. AC/DC had violated a noise curfew and things got hairy.

Yet Brian Johnson, more than half a decade later, wrote the lyrics with such insight; almost as if he was the one getting walloped by the Belgian police: He gave me a crack in the back with his gun / Hurt me so bad I could feel the blood run. Cracking lyrics, Bon-esque. Unfortunately for Brian, he was removed from lyric-writing duties from The Razors Edge (1990) onwards. All songs up to and including 2008’s Black Ice are Young/Young compositions.

Who’ll be writing the songs on the new album AC/DC has been working on in Vancouver? AC/DC fans can’t wait to hear them. Nor can I.

 
9. “Spellbound”
(For Those About to Rock We Salute You, 1981)

"Spellbound" really stands as a lasting monument to the genius of Mutt Lange, a man whose finely tuned ear and attention to detail filed the rough edges of Vanda & Young–era AC/DC and turned this commercially underperforming band for Atlantic Records into one of the biggest in the world. On “Spellbound” AC/DC sounds truly majestic. Lange just amplifies their natural power an extra notch. It’s crisp sounding, laden with dynamics and just awesome when Angus launches into his solo.

“Spellbound” is the closer on For Those About to Rock We Salute You, the last album Lange did with AC/DC, so chronologically it’s a significant song; it marks the end of an important era. For Those About to Rock was an unhappy experience for a lot of people. There was a lot of blood being spilled behind the scenes. It went to number one in the US but commercially was a massive disappointment after the performance of Back in Black. Much of the blame lies at the feet of Atlantic Records, then under Doug Morris, who made the decision to exhume an album they’d shelved in 1976, Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap, and release it in-between Back in Black and For Those About to Rock.

In the book Phil Carson, who signed AC/DC to Atlantic, calls it “one of the most crass decisions ever made by a record-company executive” and believes it undermined sales of For Those About to Rock.


 
8. “Down Payment Blues”
(Powerage, 1978)

This is one of the best songs off Powerage -- perhaps the high point of Bon Scott as a lyricist -- but also significant for its connection to “Back in Black”. There are key lines in it: Sitting in my Cadillac / Listening to my radio / Suzy baby get on in / Tell me where she wanna go / I'm living in a nightmare / She's looking like a wet dream / I got myself a Cadillac / But I can't afford the gasoline.

Bon loved writing about Cadillacs. He mentions them in “Rocker” off the Australian version of TNT and the international release of Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap: Got slicked black hair / Skin tight jeans / Cadillac car and a teenage dream.

Then you get to “Back in Black”. Bon’s dead but the lyrics have this spooky connection to “Down Payment Blues”: Back in the back / Of a Cadillac / Number one with a bullet, I’m a power pack.

Why was Brian singing about riding around in Cadillacs? He’d just joined AC/DC, wasn’t earning a lot and was on his best behavior. Bon had a reason to be singing about money. He was writing all the songs and just had a breakthrough album with Highway to Hell. Which begs the question: Could Bon also have written or part written the lyrics to “Back in Black”?

Bon’s late mother Isa said in 2006: “The last time we saw him was Christmas ’79, two months before he died. [Bon] told me he was working on the Back in Black album and that that was going to be it; that he was going to be a millionaire.”

 
7. “You Shook Me All Night Long”
(Back in Black, 1980)

Everyone knows and loves this song; it’s played everywhere. Shania Twain and Celine Dion have covered it. It’s one of AC/DC’s standbys. But who wrote it?

Former Mötley Crüe manager Doug Thaler is convinced Bon Scott, who’d passed away before the album was recorded, being replaced by Brian Johnson, wrote the lyrics. In fact he told me, “You can bet your life that Bon Scott wrote the lyrics to ‘You Shook Me All Night Long’.” That’s a pretty strong statement from a guy who used to be AC/DC’s American booking agent and knew the band intimately. I look into this claim in some depth in the book and draw my own conclusions.

I’m convinced Bon wrote it. In my opinion only Bon would have written a line like “She told me to come but I was already there.” Brian never matched the verve or wit of Bon in his lyrics and it’s why I think so much of AC/DC’s mid-'80s output suffers even when the guitar work of the Youngs was as good as it ever was.

But what’s also really interesting about this song in light of the recent hullabaloo over Taurus and Led Zeppelin is how much the opening guitar riff sounds similar to Head East’s “Never Been Any Reason”. I didn’t know a hell of a lot about Head East before I started working on this book, but came across “Never Been Any Reason” in the process of doing my research and was blown away when I heard it for the first time. AC/DC opened for Head East in Milwaukee in 1977. So the two bands crossed paths.

 
6. “Rock ’N’ Roll Damnation”
(Powerage, 1978)

It’s hard to get my head around the fact Mick Wall, the British rock writer and author of AC/DC: Hell Ain’t a Bad Place to Be, called this “a two-bit piece of head-bopping guff.” Not sure what track he was listening to when he wrote that -- maybe he was having a bad day -- but for me it’s one of the last of AC/DC’s classic boogie tracks and probably the best.

Mark Evans loves it almost as much as he loves “Highway to Hell". It has everything you want in an AC/DC song plus shakers, tambourines and handclaps, a real Motown touch that George Young and Harry Vanda brought to bear on the recording. They did something similar with the John Paul Young hit “Love Is in the Air”. Percussion was an underlying feature of many early AC/DC songs. This one really grooves. I never get tired of hearing it.

“Rock ’n’ Roll Damnation” was AC/DC’s first hit in the UK charts and a lot of the credit has to go to Michael Klenfner, best known as the fat guy with the moustache who stops Jake and Elwood backstage in the final reel of The Blues Brothers and offers them a recording contract. He was senior vice-president at Atlantic at the time, and insisted the band go back and record a radio-worthy single after they delivered the first cut of Powerage to New York.

Michael was a real champion of AC/DC behind the scenes at Atlantic, and never got the recognition he was due while he was still alive (he passed away in 2009). He ended up having a falling out with Atlantic president Jerry Greenberg over the choice of producer for Highway to Hell and got fired. But it was Klenfner who arguably did more for the band than anyone else while they were at Atlantic. His story deserves to be known by the fans.

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