Thursday, June 02, 2016

With Dr. Thorne, Julian Fellowes Takes Alistair Cooke's Chair...


A recent email from announced that the latest costume drama produced by Downton Abbey impressario Julian Fellowes for Hat Trick Productions would be on streaming video from Amazon Prime--instead of PBS. (I had missed reviews in The New York Times, Washington Post, and elsewhere, so Amazon's email alert was the first I heard about it.)

This email was welcome news to a fan of Masterpiece Theatre, who had little interest in Amazon's so-called "edgy" (but to my taste, off-putting and creepy) original programming for streaming video--until now.

We streamed Fellowes' adaptation of Anthony Trollope's nuanced depiction of English country life in the Barsetshire Chronicles with eager anticipation.

The four-part series was not so reverential as Downton, sometimes veering towards the grotesque, but once you got used to the different cinematic approach, extremely enjoyable.

Everyone is good, and Tom Hollander does a solid job as Dr. Thorne, but my favorite characterization was Ian MacShane's Sir Roger Scatcherd, a self-made railway robber baron and jailbird who killed a man, who runs for Parliament in an election campaign employing insults and mockery somewhat like that of Donald Trump. In television prophecy of the "what's past is prologue" variety, Scatcherd wins his seat against the odds, against a proper and dignified opponent supported by the Establishment.

But even better than the episodes were the intros and outros...

Imagine my delight when the program opened with Julian Fellowes seated in an upholstered wing chair set before a blazing gas fire, in a cosy English room--in clear homage to the late, great and much-missed Alistair Cooke!

While Fellowes' accent, intonation and delivery were perhaps a bit more Hitchcockian, and quick cuts from close-up to wide angle camera shots appeared at a somewhat dizzying pace compared to the slow and majestic zooms in Alistair Cooke's introductions, there could be no doubt that Julian Fellowes is a worthy successor as presenter of classic British costume drama on American television.

Fellowes has the background, the gravitas, and the twinkle in the eye that made Alistair reason enough to tune-in Masterpiece. He knows he's playing the role of the stage Englishman, and he's playing it to the hilt (Cooke was an American citizen when he did Masterpiece).

Plus, Fellowes soupčon of Hitchockian irony ties him to two legendary British presenting traditions  on American television, at once: Alfred Hitchock Presents as well as Masterpiece Theatre. Like Hitchcock, Fellowes not only introduces his shows--he produces them.

We certainly look forward to more from whence this comes...

Meanwhile: Hail to a worthy successor to the throne of Alistair Cooke: Baron Fellowes of West Stafford!