The Barchester Chronicles

[Screenshot]I saw a mention that this production had Alan Rickman performing as the Rev. Mr Obadiah Slope, and it was worth the price of admission for me to see that. He does an excellent job (it would be hard to imagine him not doing a good job with a character as oily and fawning as Slope), but he is not actually even nearly the main character of this series. Actually, it’d be best to start by defining the scope of this series more fully: the “Barchester novels” are a 6-part series, of which the first two are the most closely narratively linked, and the second the most well-loved. This series only follows those two, with the first two episodes covering the plot of The Warden, and the remaining five for Barchester Towers. This is a pretty satisfactory division: plot-wise, The Warden is rather slight and it’s full of elements which would translate poorly to the screen (such as the newspaper broadsides and the parodies of Carlyle and Dickens). So the energy of the series is much better spent on the more dialogue-and-plot-driven situational comedy of Barchester Towers. In terms of delivery of the novel’s original themes and elements, this adaptation works pretty well, presenting a charming ecclesiastical satire, cutting minimally at important elements of the original (as always, screen adaptation requires cuts, but Trollope has easy-to-cut digressions and a miniseries is more forgiving of bloat than a movie). The cinemacraft works too: it’s not shot on location, of course, since Barsetshire doesn’t exist, but it captures much of the same flavor in the (real) cathedral town of Peterborough

Of course, the actors are what drew me, so what can I say of them? As mentioned, Alan Rickman does a fine job, but not the most significant one in the story. That honor goes to Nigel Hawthorne, who presents an impressively abrasive and frequently rueful Archdeacon Grantly. And top billing goes to Donald Pleasance, who actually doesn’t get too much chance to show range: Rev. Harding really has only one attitude, that of quiet, unassertive stubbornness. Among the actresses present, Geraldine McEwan is most notable, putting on a believably, unambiguously unpleasant performance, in keeping with the source material. The other actors do a competent but not superlative job, which I only found particularly problematic with the role of Arabin. As a character with few lines, he needs to be especially expressive to be sympathetic and interesting, especially when we’re deprived of his backstory: he came across disappointingly like Grantly-lite in this performance, where he is in actuality supposed to be a much more sympathetic character.

But, all in all, this is an excellent series for anyone hankering for a video adaptation of Barchester Towers, and for anyon who hasn’t read Trollope, well, there are worse ways to be introduced to his most well-regarded novel.

See also: IMDB, Wikipedia.


About Jake
I'm a mathematics professor at the University of Louisville, and a geek.

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