The Barchester Chronicles

The Barchester Chronicles


Reviewed by: Caro Ness

The community of Barchester is shaken to its foundations when a newspaper attacks the Church of England's practice of self-enrichment and it seriously backfires. Overnight, the sweet-natured warden, Reverend Harding (Donald Pleasance) becomes a pawn in a battle between his younger daughter's beau, John Bold (David Gwillim), and his older daughter's husband, Archdeacon Grantly (Nigel Hawthorne). Unbeknownst to them, they open a can of worms, because they precipitate a regime change far more corrupt than the one they have ousted, in the shape of the weak-willed Bishop Proudie (Clive Swift), his insufferably domineering wife (Geraldine McEwan) and the oily, odious Reverend Obadaih Slope (Alan Rickman).

The cast is quite extraordinary. Rickman, as the ghastly Slope, turns in a performance of greasy ambition that beggars superlatives. Susan Hampshire plays the lovely Marchesa with her usual grace and verve. Hawthorne, whom I have always admired, is certainly true to the pomposity of the Archdeacon, but seems too apoplectic for me, while McEwan's performance, as Mrs Proudie, is perhaps a little larger than life, also.

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However, Pleasance is a complete revelation. Having always associated him with arch-villains, such as Blofeld, he turns in the most compelling performance of all. To make goodness riveting is a tough act, but he brings an innocence and integrity to the role of Harding that is utterly mesmerising and as engaging as all the viciousness that surrounds him.

Based on Anthony Trollope's novels, The Warden and Barchester Towers, this is a wonderful, elegant piece of writing. The costumes and production values are up to the high standard that the BBC sets itself for literary adaptations and the extraordinary quality of stillness that exudes from the cathedral and its environs provides a stark contrast to the manic behaviour of many of its residents.

For those of us who dislike costume drama, don't be put off. This is a marvellous example of what television can do and quite simply a tour de force of character acting and as fine a piece of Machiavellian social politics as you are likely to see!

Reviewed on: 31 Jul 2005
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Superior Anthony Trollope adaptation.
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Director: David Giles

Writer: Alan Plater, based on The Warden and Barchester Towers by Anthony Trollope

Starring: Donald Pleasance, Nigel Hawthorne, Alan Rickman, Geraldine McEwan, Susan Hampshire, Clive Swift, David Gwillim, Janet Maw, Angela Pleasance, Joseph O'Connor

Year: 1982

Runtime: 353 minutes

BBFC: U - Universal

Country: UK


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