Tuesday, November 10, 2009

The Barchester Chronicles

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Another film adaptation of Anthony Trollope's novels and perhaps one of the sweetest. A BBC TV miniseries released in 1982, The Barchester Chronicles is actually based on two books: The Warden, and Barchester Towers. And may I say upfront that this film is definitely recommended!

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Mr. Harding:
I know that ultimately we are not supposed to understand, but I also know that we must try.

The first two episodes tell the story of young radical John Bold's legal case brought against The Warden of Hirams Hospital (a retirement home for old wool carters). This warden is Septimus Harding the most kind-hearted man in Barchester. Although Mr. Bold respects Mr. Harding and loves his daughter Eleanor, he also suspects that Mr. Harding is being overpaid through a misreading of the will of the hospital's benefactor. Mr. Harding is very willing to see it through Mr. Bold's eyes and even to give up his position at the hospital if need be.

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Archdeacon Grantly:
Sir Abraham specializes in fine legal quibbles.

Mr. Harding's son-in-law Archdeacon Grantly (Nigel Hawthorne) and his father the Bishop are very offended and decide to seek legal help from Sir Abraham Haphazard. A short legal skirmish ensues which ends in Mr. Bold seeing he was wrong and giving up the case but not before Mr. Harding has resigned his position at the hospital and several cutting words have been written in that all powerful London newspaper The Jupiter about Barchester clergyman.

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Mrs. Proudie:
The Bishop feels, and I agree with him...

Episodes three through seven are adapted from Barchester Towers and begin almost three years after the first two episodes. Eleanor is not the widow Mrs. Bold living with her baby son and her sister-in-law Miss Bold. While Mr. Harding in enjoying his small income as vicar of St. Cuthberts.
When the old Bishop dies a new Bishop is appointed and it is shortly clear that Mr. Proudie is just a puppet in the hands of his wife Mrs. Proudie (Geraldine McEwan), and his chaplain Mr. Obadiah Slope (Alan Rickman). Mrs. Proudie and Mr. Slope soon stir things up in Barchester with their high brow ideas of how things should be. Their first plan is to fill the position of Warden at Hirams Hospital, Mr. Slope offering the position to first Mr. Harding and then the aptly named Mr. Quiverfull with his wife and fourteen children.

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Miss Bold:
Obadiah Slope!?!
Eleanor: Poor man!
Miss Bold: Well, I suppose his name isn't his fault.
Eleanor: The gossip is he changed it. Apparently he was born Obadiah Slop!

A clever young man, Mr. Slope slithers his way through Barchester making friends and enemies wherever he goes. He is so oily that no one can contain him, even Mrs. Proudie who starts out as his cohort and ends as his enemy. As he looks to advance his position from chaplain to dean he also seeks a rich woman to marry. Eleanor is first on his list together with crippled but sassy Signora Madeline Neroni, daughter of clergyman Mr. Stanhope.


Mr. Harding:
My dear, I have listened to the word of Obadiah Slope. More importantly I have listened to the music of his soul, and I found the melody somewhat tasteless.

The Stanhopes and their three grown children arrive in Barchester after a sojourn of 12 years in Italy. The young people soon make a stir with their outspoken ideas and comical but knowing ways. They don't mind planning people's lives and talking about them behind their backs but also to their faces.

Throughout the remainder of the series Eleanor is pursued by two men, persistent Mr. Slope and whimsical painter Bertie Stanhope, who is encouraged by his sisters. But unfortunately for them her heart has already been claimed by a gentle and somewhat shy young clergyman. A wonderful garden party is held at which Eleanor is proposed to by both Slope and Stanhope succesively. It is so funny to see Mr. Slope's pride wounded whe he is refused! Unlike other Trollope novels the story ends happily for everyone except the undeserving Mr. Slope.

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Mr. Harding:
The other reason that I make music is to celebrate the certainty of the Lord. Since there is no other way that I can understand the contradictions and confusions that surround me.
Eleanor: Do I really confuse you, Father?
Mr. Harding: Yes, my dear. Tenderly and lovingly, you confuse me.

The one problem I had in watching this miniseries was that I did not at first understand the titles and positions of clergyman in the church of England. Rewatching it has helped me to catch the power and income that comes with each position. It is quite full of scripture, virtues, church music and even a sermon or two. I really enjoyed the simple stories and watching them intertwine, in that way Barchester reminds me of Cranford, but concerned in clerical troubles instead of domestic ones. The characters in Barchester are very well drawn and extremely well acted by talented British actors most of whom will be familiar to you if you've seen BBC dramas before. There is much humor in the film, even the "villainous" characters are quite comical but real to life. The relationships are true, my favorites being that of Mr. Harding and his children and also that of Archdeacon Grantly and his wife Susan. My favorite character and perhaps the heart of the story is Mr. Septimus Harding, who cannot fail of being loved by all who know him.

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Archdeacon Grantly:
I know you'll all forgive me if my main topic is my father-in-law, who during recent months has given us as much cause for anxiety as any ten other people I can think of.
Mr. Harding: I hope you'll forgive the anxieties when you hear my new anthem.
Archdeacon Grantly: On the contrary, no man has ever given less cause for forgiveness then Septimus Harding. He is not a hero, not a man that is widely talked about, not a man who should be toasted at public dinners, not a man who should be spoken of with conventional absurdity as "the perfect divine". He's simply a good man, without guile, believing humbly in the religion he has striven to teach, and guided by the precepts he has striven to learn. My friends, I give you our Mr. Harding.


The Editrix said...

Cool, thanks for review and recommendation! This will definitely be on my wishlist now. :-)


The Editrix said...

You've been awarded! :-)


Elegance of Fashion said...

My mother and I just finished watching it. We very much enjoyed it. Mr. Harding was such a lovable character!

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