Lark Rise to Candleford



7:40-8:40 p.m. Sunday Jan. 13
BBC1 (U.K.)

LONDON -- The BBC has returned to period drama in a big way lately and it had to dig deep to find "Lark Rise to Candleford," writer Flora Thompson's memoirs of life in Oxfordshire in the 1880s.

It's the sets and scenery that may keep viewers returning to a 10-part series whose characters can't hold a candle to Austen or Dickens. There are lots of candles, though, and more bonnets, crinoline and lace than in Harrod's haberdashery department.

The drama is minimalist in the extreme with all the tension in the first episode resting on how far a small community lies from the regional post office.

The show is beautifully constructed using English villages and atmospheric sets to full advantage, with fine costumes by designer Phoebe De Gaye ("The Forsyte Saga," the "Marple" series).

Production designer Malcolm Thornton, whose credits include the BBC shows "Vanity Fair," "Tipping the Velvet" and "Viva Blackpool," has done a marvelous job and it's shot perfectly by director of photography Balazs Bolygo ("Hustle," "Life on Mars," "Mistresses").

Squalor has never looked so lovely as in the tiny Oxfordshire hamlet of Lark Rise where Laura Timmins (Olivia Hallinan) has been raised with a gaggle of siblings by loving parents Robert (Brendan Coyne) and Emma (Blakley). With the benefit of an education, Olivia soon finds herself sent off to the nearby market town of Candleford to work at the post office and make her way in the world.

The story is Laura's tale and her observations of the differences between the two locales help inform the drama. From the peasant environment of her home, the young woman is now on the verge of high society with sightings of the local squire, Sir Timothy (Ben Miles) and his glamorous wife (Olivia Grant).

Kindly postmistress Dorcas Lane (Sawalha) takes her in hand as she learns how to deal with officious civil servants, snobbish merchants and gossiping neighbors. Trouble arises when her father leads a petition from Lark Rise protesting the extra cost of delivering telegrams from Candleford. It's enough to upset the social applecart and it takes some shrewd manipulation by the doughty postmistress, who has a certain connection with the squire, to resolve matters.

Dawn French ("The Vicar of Dibley"), as spendthrift mother whose husband is at sea, and Mark Heap ("Green Wing"), as a fussy evangelical postal worker, are among the more colorful characters in a show that may find appreciative audiences simply because, like the cap-doffing locals, it knows its place.

BBC Prods.
Devised and written by: Bill Gallagher, based on works by Flora Thompson
Executive producers: Bill Gallagher, Susan Hogg
Producer: Grainne Marmion
Director: Charles Palmer
Director of photography: Balazs Bolygo
Production designer: Malcolm Thornton
Composer: Julian Nott
Costume designer: Phoebe De Gaye
Editor: Nick McPhee
Laura Timmins: Olivia Hallinan
Dorcas Lane: Julia Swalka
Emma Timmins: Claudia Blakley
Robert Timmins: Brendan Coyle
Caroline Arless: Dawn French
Alf Arless: John Dagleish
Thomas: Mark Heap
Sir Timothy: Ben Miles
Lady Adelaide: Olivia Grant
Paxton: Gerard Hogan
Queenie: Linda Bassett