So I just finished the DVDs for Season 2 of the BBC series Lark Rise to Candleford, which is based on Flora Thompson’s trilogy of semi-autobiographical novels and follows the lives of the residents of the village of Lark Rise and the small town of Candleford in the 1890s.
I love classic/period drama. Give me a film adaptation of Austen or Dickens or Elizabeth Gaskell any day, but sometimes I feel a bit guilty if they seem to sentimentalize old-fashioned gender norms.
Some of this might just be inevitable given the time periods they’re set in. I mean, you can put on a punk production of Macbeth set in the 1970s with an all-female cast and it might be awesome, but works like Lark Rise to Candleford are all about context: both historical and geographical.
In spite of this, the Lark Rise writers have managed to take considerable license with character and plot details without it seeming out of place. For example, the character of Minnie, the Post Office maid, is almost entirely original. Luckily the creative team has chosen to use much of its creative license to focus plots on the independent women of the town. In an interview, Victoria Hamilton, who plays shopkeeper Ruby Pratt, stated: “There’s an awful lot of very strong unmarried women. It’s fantastic to be in a TV series with this many parts for women because they happen once in a blue moon.”
Most of the episodes of Lark Rise revolve around the character of Laura Timmins (Olivia Hallinan), who moves from Lark Rise to Candleford to work at the Post Office, which is run by her mother’s cousin, Dorcas Lane (Julia Sawalha).
Laura is intelligent, principled, and optimistic, if sometimes naive. However, even though Laura is the narrator of the series, the character of Dorcas is no less important to the series.
Producer Anne Tricklebank points out: “Remember women haven’t got the vote then, so for a woman to run the post office…was quite unusual.”
“It was quite something in those times for a woman to take that on. That’s why I love Dorcas: because she’s very independent,” says Sawalha of her character. One of the best examples of this is an episode in Season 2 in which Dorcas runs for Parish Council.
And there are many more strong women characters, including the Pratt sister seamstresses, Queenie the beekeeper, Laura’s mother Emma, and the loud and big-hearted though flawed Caroline Arless, played by Dawn French. Susan Wooldridge notes that costume dramas like Lark Rise provide more and meatier roles for women over 50 than mainstream drama. In Lark Rise we certainly see older women (and men) treated as individuals with detailed individual personalities instead of as caricatures.
So I’m looking forward to Season 3 and the rumoured 6 episodes planned for a mini 4th season.
I’ll leave you with this little clip from Season 3, where Queenie insists to her husband Twister that she be allowed to play the dragon in the local pageant.