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South Riding and one of the greatest literary heroines

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Kate Harwood Kate Harwood | 10:07 UK time, Friday, 18 February 2011

When, as a voracious teenage reader, I first read South Riding I took many of its themes for granted and thought it was a great story folded around a great love story.

But re-reading it when I was wondering whether to develop it as a drama, I found the resonances go so much deeper.

Anna Maxwell Martin as Sarah Burton in South Riding

I am the controller of series and serials for BBC Drama production and, just occasionally, I get the chance to help push a passion onto the screen.

As the title suggests, South Riding is a portrait of a community.

But, as Andrew Davies has so brilliantly realised in this three-hour adaptation, this is a community into which blows one of the greatest literary heroines ever created.

Sarah Burton, superbly played by Anna Maxwell Martin, is as real a character as ever lived: modern, quixotic, romantic, intelligent, infuriating, elegant, colourful and as wrong as often as she is right.

She bursts into the story - and onto the screen - like the "little firecracker" the older, wiser Mrs Beddows describes her as.

Having lost her fiancé in the First World War she has turned her back on the past to become a teacher, throwing herself into the cause of female education.

Full of hope, she thinks she has it all worked out, but life has other plans and she finds herself sideswiped by love - love for a man who ironically cannot escape his own past, and it is this love that almost undoes her.

The great novelist and journalist Winifred Holtby wrote the novel in 1934 and died in 1935, only for it to be published in 1936 and become a huge success.

Often novelists write about the recent past but Winifred - maybe seeing her world with an intensity born of the fact her health was failing - set this novel right slap in her present.

Yet she still managed to give it an epic sweep and a tone that is hopeful, determined, campaigning and optimistic.

Anna Maxwell Martin as Sarah Burton in South Riding, surrounded by schoolchildren

When I read it as a girl I connected with the love story but now, just as much, it is the themes that move me.

It is astonishing to be reminded that, when young women are doing so brilliantly at school and at university, only 70 years ago, a proper aspirational education for all girls was a novelty.

As one of the Holtby family told me at a screening a few weeks ago, Winifred was, at the time, disparagingly referred to as "clever".

She also reminded me that, in the 1920s, "farmers' daughters didn't go to Oxford".

But, as Winifred shows us, female education isn't about feeding the mind of the bluestocking but about making women a relevant, dynamic part of society.

I hope that you find this a thrilling, involving, passionate drama but I also hope it brings you to read Winifred's brave, moving, pioneering novel.

Kate Harwood is controller of series and serials for BBC drama.

South Riding is on BBC One and BBC One HD at 9pm on Sunday, 20 February.

For further programme times, please see the upcoming episodes page.

Watch exclusive behind-the-scenes interviews with cast and crew, and a special video on the costumes on the South Riding programme page.

Comments made by writers on the BBC TV blog are their own opinions and not necessarily those of the BBC.


  • Comment number 1.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 2.

    I take no issue with anything in your assessment of the novel, Ms Harwood, but I do query your claim to have helped "push a passion onto the screen", since this suggests that this BBC production of the novel is the first ever. It would surely be disingenuous to ignore the fact that South Riding was first brought to television by Yorkshire TV itself in 1974, starring the wonderful Dorothy Tutin.
    Andrew Davies' adaptation will no doubt be wonderful - I yield to no-one in my admiration for his abilities - but it will not be the first. Credit where it is due, surely!

  • Comment number 3.

    Where were the East Yorkshire accents? This production would have been so much more authentic with attention to detail on this - the Hull and East Riding accent is one of the most 'preserved' in the UK due to the geographical location. Instead we got general 'ee by gum' Yorkshire.
    For the real thing, see the series on Sarah Beeny's renovation of Rise Hall

  • Comment number 4.

    With reference to:At 11:27am on 20th Feb 2011, cestrefeldian wrote:

    I also recall the excellent 1974 production. However I seem to recall it was called 'East Riding'; or is that just my elderly mind playing tricks. Perhaps someone can clarify this point for me please.

  • Comment number 5.

    With reference: 4. At 12:55p.m. on 21st Feb 2011, Norman43 wrote:

    Norman, Wikipedia (not always 100% reliable, granted) says as follows:

    South Riding is a novel by Winifred Holtby, published posthumously in 1936.... The book is set in the fictional South Riding of Yorkshire: the inspiration being the East Riding rather than South Yorkshire....
    It was adapted for television by Yorkshire Television in 1974, starring Hermione Baddeley as Mrs Beddows, Dorothy Tutin as Sarah Burton, Nigel Davenport as Robert Carne and Judi Bowker as Midge Carne.

    I particularly remembered it because, apart from Top of the Pops, it was the first programme I watched on our new-fangled colour TV!

  • Comment number 6.

    It was such a delight to watch....I can't bear the thought of a week's wait until the story unfolds further. Such superb, convincing acting (a refreshing change from the predictable acting skills of most today's stars e.g. Judi Dench, Maggie Smith etc.). Excellent script, great camera. All round brilliant ! Good old BBC dramas..they are unbeatable.

  • Comment number 7.

    Another nostalgic, middle-class view of history. With the fiesty, female character carrying the moral certainty of the left, who is pited against the conservative male attitudes of the right. Do they get together, as I haven't read the novel?

    If the BBC want to get to the heart of the social political life of the 1930's why not do The Road to Wigan Pier?

  • Comment number 8.

    Well, just watched the first episode to the end, and appears to be a misreading of Keynsian Economics based in a 1930's romance centred around Thornfield Hall.

    When did the BBC stop informing and educating. Watching When the Boat Comes In on Sky, and may be 35 years old but the script still crackles compared to this BBC offering...

  • Comment number 9.

    I have to admit I was disappointed. Poor lighting didn't help but I just couldn't warm to any of the characters. Nasty landowner, idealistic woman...... perhaps it is a 'grower'?

  • Comment number 10.

    While I found last night's South Riding enjoyable after much anticipation, it wasn't really a patch on the 1974 version starring Dorothy Tutin. This modern one is too rushed, too breathless, too cynical and cold. The original series was spread out, deep, compassionate, a better reflection of the wonderful novel which contains so much that is worthwhile and human. I just hope this latest version leads viewers to read the book.

  • Comment number 11.

    Enjoyed the first episode but there did seem to be a few anachronisms in speech of which, to me, the most obvious was the use of "transparency". This is a recent usage and I don't think any official would have used that word in 1934 in the same context.

  • Comment number 12.

    Thank you: 5. At 13:08pm on 21st Feb 2011, cestrefeldian wrote:
    in answer to my query about 'East Riding', that clears that point. I also recall that my wife and I were also impressed with the young girl who took the part of Lydia Holly from The Shacks. We couldn't recall her name but now know it to be Lesley Dunlop who now plays Brenda in Emmerdale.
    Being well past my 3 score & 10 I must admit to being quite pleased I can recall so much of the 1974 production.
    Thank you.

  • Comment number 13.

    Nice programme but was I the only one to notice that the calf born towards the end of the programme had a modern plastic ID tag on its left ear? A bad error BBC. No tags in the 1930's, in fact no plastics! Even in the 21st Century, when we are forced to comply with EU regulations in Agriculture. we are not technologically advanced enough to produce ready tagged livestock at birth. Try harder next time! :0)

  • Comment number 14.

    We loved this BBC Drama and cant wait for next week.So proud of my niece Charlie May Clarke who plays the part of Lydia Holly from the Shacks.Well done to all the other actors too.

  • Comment number 15.

    I was stunned by the earlier TV adaptation (mentioned by someone above) so I will inevitably judge this production against that one, which was brilliant. So far, I'm impressed, but I do hope Davies continues to capture the spirit of that time, even with the subtle little digs at our current 'climate'.

  • Comment number 16.

    Thought the original version in 1974 was far superior.

  • Comment number 17.

    The series is interesting to watch and compare with the original 1974 version, of which I have just bought the DVD.The story stands up well with the passage of time - meaty,dramatic and poignant.I'm impressed with the costumes and the background.Penelope Wilton is convincing,and the part of Sarah is also well-portrayed.The story is difficult to tell onscreen without it coming across as
    too intense and hard to watch.I think the 1974 version is superior,but then
    with the closing of the 20th Century,times are bound to change and actors/actresses embrace new styles of their craft. I will continue to watch and
    enjoy the story.May I add that Peter Firth,a much underrated actor,was also a welcome sight in this adaptation.

  • Comment number 18.

    I loved this book when I read it 20 years ago and subsequently sought out the film with Ralph Richardson, which at least had the benefit of being somewhat contemporaneous as it was made in 1938. This production has an impressive cast and great settings - although the lighting seems all wrong, with flashes from candles, gas lamps and even daylight interfering with foreground action. However, it is too short. It looks expensive - so perhaps that is the only guiding reason for giving this marvelous and important work only 3 episodes - but I cannot help regretting that the viewers will miss so much of the story. Perhaps if it makes them seek out the book it will be worth it?

  • Comment number 19.

    I'm somewhat puzzled about the geography in this second episode. In the last part of the episode, Sarah was going to her sister in Bradford for Christmas, and intended to stop off in Manchester on the way. Even though there is actually no South Riding, (there are North, East and West) I assume this fictional South Riding is intended to represent South Yorkshire, in which case, it's difficult to see how or why anybody would ever consider travelling to Bradford from the South Riding via Manchester. I've not read the book, so don't know if this is an author's inaccuracy or if it's this TV production team.
    It doesn't really spoil my enjoyment, but I do feel that programme makers have an obligation to be factually accurate, particularly in historical drama, and it's disappointing to see such a lapse.

  • Comment number 20.

    The book makes it plain that Sarah's sister Patricia lives in Bradford-upon-Avon in Wiltshire – hence Sarah has to travel via Manchester, crossing the Pennines. I don't know why the TV adaptation curtailed the place name, because, as you say, it makes it seem very confusing and strange geographically. But she's going to Wiltshire.

  • Comment number 21.

    I'm thoroughly enjoying this adaptation of South Riding. I've seen both the previous ones (1938 and 1974): having grown up in Hull, I'm a long-standing Holtby fan. (I read the book as a teenager about 30 years ago.) I'm just sorry that it's been compressed into only 3 episodes. I don't mind so much the loss of some of the minor characters, but I feel there's been a curtailment of the back-stories of some of the leads (Sarah, Joe, and Emma especially). In this adaptation, Robert is the only person whose background gets much attention, with flashbacks, & c., and it knocks the story somewhat off-balance. And yes, I must confess this annoys me in part because I have a long-term literary crush on Joe, who is definitely the stuff of which heroes are made (conscientious objector, campaigner for unions for black workers in South Africa, & c.) and would be so much more suitable for Sarah, who had dumped an Afrikaaner fiancé because of his racism.

  • Comment number 22.

    Holtby's fictional 'South Riding' is the southern part of the East Riding, from the Wolds east to Holderness. It includes Hull (as Kingsport), Beverley (as Flintonbridge), her birthplace in Rudston (as Anderby), and Hornsea and Withernsea (amalgamated into Kiplington, where Sarah teaches). 'Cold Harbour' is really Sunk Island.

  • Comment number 23.

    dfc1x: Another nostalgic, middle-class view of history.

    ??? Well, all that suggests is that you haven't read South Riding or know much about Winifred Holtby as a person.

  • Comment number 24.

    Thanks for clearing up the Bradford-upon-Avon puzzle.

    Can anyone tell me what is wrong with Robert Carne and what drug he inhales? Is it morphine?

  • Comment number 25.

    Thank you all so much for your comments - it has been great fun reading them although I am not going to be much help on East versus South Yorkshire geography debate despite having family in North Yorkshire.

    The affection for the 1974 version is interesting to me, although I have never seen it, and cestrefeldian you are right to suggest that I should have alluded to it. I certainly didn't mean to imply that were were the first. Just the first for 37 years!

    I do now wonder whether the reason I read the book in the first place was because it had recently been such a huge hit on television. I do have a dim memory of a TV tie-in edition with Dorothy Tutin on the cover but I was probably just a bit too young for it. I have watched a few clips recently on YouTube and found them fascinating; a much slower pace of course given that it was 13 episodes.

    It has made me think about how differently we make television drama nowadays. Then it was largely shot in big TV studios on tape, recorded by 3 or 4 pedestal cameras with the pictures vision mixed live in a gallery. The exteriors were shot separately on film and cut in. The pace and acting styles were much closer to theatre than film and the only shows that are still made in this way, on 'multicam', are the soaps, such as EastEnders.

    It all changed in the mid 1980s when productions like Brideshead and Jewel in the Crown went out on location with bigger budgets and more co-production and dramas gradually got shorter as they became more filmic and much more expensive. Less were made but more was spent on them and audiences got used to a faster storytelling style, a richer visual experience, naturalistic acting and more complex editing.

    We recently compared lists of classic adaptations in the 1970s to the number we make today. Then there were 30 or so a year at at least 10 parts each, now we can only afford 3 or 4 at running times of 4 hours or so. Are we better off or worse? Or do you think a modern audience would find the old shows a bit
    ponderous and too theatrical to enjoy. I would love to hear your views.

    It is a recurring debate of course as to how slavishly book adaptations should follow the novels. They can't be entirely faithful as they need to put the needs of the drama before the demands of literature but I am interested in the comment silverwhistle makes about Joe Astell. I think we tried to make it very clear that if Sarah was really being sensible she should go off with Joe - heck, we even helped her out by casting the gorgeous Dougie Henshall- but alas, as we all know love doesn't always follow reason, which of course makes for much better drama.

    I look forward to hearing what you think of the final episode particularly from those of you that know how the book ends. We certainly haven't changed it as much as the 1938 film did but we did have to lose the plane crash (no, really).

    I do hope you enjoy it and again, thank you so much for taking the time to comment. I have been delighted by the viewing figures and the response and proud that so many people have watched the show with such apparent enjoyment.

    Now, what book should we do next I wonder?

  • Comment number 26.

    It is so sad you have compressed this into only 3 episodes but the two so far broadcast have been terrific. I appreciate the caveats, Kate but still think some of the subtleties are lost. It is pretty clear that budgets are a huge constraint-yet not a constraint for Silk or New Tricks-is this because they aren't period pieces? Some period dramas were never recommissioned such as Lilies or The Cazalets (which was never completed) and I always wondered why. Love the costumes in South Riding, incidentally.

    Scenes from Provinical Life by William Cooper might work?

  • Comment number 27.

    Whilst I have enjoyed the series so far I put out a heartfelt plea for all those involved in TV and film drama to watch their dates ages and finer details in their casting and production.

    For example Anna Maxwell is 32. Sarah Burton is supposed to a have lost a fiancee in the First World War and worked away from Yorkshire for 20 years. Story is set in the mid thirties. On any view Anna's Sarah would have been 12 when she went away to teach in London! If Sarah's fiancee died between 1914 and 1918, taking even the latest date of 1918 and assuming Sarah knew him when she was say 17 at the earliest Sarah must be now at least 34. Another "mistake" Midge was conceived during the First World War. Even assuming it was 1918 at the latest she was then born in 1919. By mid 1930's she would be at least 15 or 16. The actress playing her does not act or look 15.

    The BBC is not alone in this. Ladies in Lavender had Maggie Smith and Judy Dench playing the leads. They are both in their 70's. Smiths character one is led to believe has lost a financee in war presumably the First World War. The film is set in the late 1930's. Even if Smith's character had a late romance she is not likely to have been more than 30 when the man died between 1914 and 1918 so on any view her character is probably around 50. Smith is just too old for the part and so is Dench who is suppposed to be her younger sister. lastly I have not read the novel but do the young girls in the book really put on a variety show and show off their knickers and wear very short red skirts. I just doubt this happened in 1930's Yorkshire.

    This sounds nit picking but it just means that the production lacks credibility and interferes with the enjoyment. There must be a host of talented actors out there needing parts who are the right age. It is not rocket science but it does require careful reading of the story and looking for pointers for ages and dates. I also agree with using too modern language such as "transparency" is also very annoying and takes away from authenticity.

  • Comment number 28.

    Thanks for responding!

    I preferred the longer, more faithful adaptations: too much gets lost these days. The condensed time-scheme on South Riding is jarring, given things like deaths and re-marriages: the action takes place over 3 years (1932-35), not a few months.

    And I think we can suspend disbelief re: more theatrical-type sets. I don't think TV drama needs to ape cinema in style, especially if it result in the cost-cutting that sacrifices plot and character development in favour of a more polished 'look'. I try to get the older shows on DVD if I can, and wish the BBC would make more available commercially (I'd love to get my paws on The Talisman and The Prisoner of Zenda from the 1980s, and lament the loss of the 1966 Notre Dame de Paris, starring James Maxwell.)

    This is definitely better than the 1938 film (which was a travesty, although John Clements was very cute – despite being too young, too posh and too English!).

    Sarah is 37 at the start of the novel in 1932, so she would be born in 1895. I can easily see her as young-looking (a friend of mine was once asked for proof of age when buying wine for her 35th birthday!). She has had 2 other fiancés, an Afrikaaner farmer, whom she dumped for his racism, and the other an MP.

    Madame Hubbard's dance class show is as written, including the girls performing alarmingly 'adult' material. Sarah isn't comfortable with it.

    Midge is described as small for her age and very immature.

  • Comment number 29.

    Robert inhales Amyl Nitrate for his angina attacks.

  • Comment number 30.

    Agreed re: the casting of Dougie Henshall. He's adorable. But I do think it's a shame that both Joe and Sarah have lost back-story, especially when their backgrounds emphasise all the more why they ought to belong together. His letter, near the end of the book, always has me in tears, whereas I wasn't exactly fashed over Robert winning the King Alexander III Driving Award. (Ahem! Sorry… Scots Mediævalist joke… ;-D)

  • Comment number 31.

    i loved this series and am disappointed that it has ended so soon. I really hope to see another series, it was pleasant and engaging. Keep up the good work Beeb

  • Comment number 32.

    I have enjoyed all three episodes of South Riding. So much so that I feel that I have to read the book. However, the name of the actress who played the part of Bessie who had an affair with the councillor eludes me. Perhaps one of your contributors could help me and also which programme/series she has been part of. Thank you.

  • Comment number 33.

    I thoroughly enjoyed this series; how refreshing to have actors with believable regional accents. I am really disappointed the series has finished so abruptly after only three episodes. Come on BBC please can we have more?

  • Comment number 34.

    I'm sorry we didn't get Joe's letter at the end… It's heartbreaking. (And that last scene between him and Sarah in the serial… It was like kicking a puppy. Drat it, girl, what's wrong with you?!)

  • Comment number 35.

    To those asking for more: there isn't any, although there are more Holtby novels, which would be good to see. After all, Jane Austen has been done to death, despite being less interesting, and her lifespan and output were about as short.

  • Comment number 36.

    Agree about the accents- the BBC is really falling short of representing good Yorkshire dialects, and also actors and their directors can be a bit lazy when portraying regional Yorkshire accents. One actor who shall remain nameless was playing a character from Leeds and he was speaking with a Mancunian twang!!
    I have to say the first episode showed great promise and the second one was OK, but the third episode was a bit of let down because it was too short and looked rushed. However, I havent read the book but will go and seek it out.
    I have to say - Peter Firth- brilliant!! He really sounded like he could go for a part in a Gromit and Wallace movie with perhaps a character being modelled on his portrayal!!! Only ever seen him Spooks, I had to look twice the first time- that hair!!
    Just one question- why are series like Garrow, Lark Rise, South Ridings and Spooks so short and the utter rubbish that is Eastenders on for 4 DAYS a week, EVERY week?
    Honestly Beeb, the nation will not come to a standstill if you cut out some of the days, and spend the money elsewhere on already established series, instead of spoiling them by cutting corners ( RE last series of Spooks).

  • Comment number 37.

    I am from West Yorkshire and enjoyed the series thoroughly. I was a bit confused with the name being South Riding - expecting it to based around South Yorkshire. Although it is actually the old East Riding where it is generally based. Yorkshire only had the 3 Ridings - North, East and West. I will now read the book having enjoyed the series so much. I think that I probably enjoyed the series so much because of my previous lack of knowledge of any previous manifestations and having never read the book. I am probably biased being a proud Yorkshireman but thought that the scenery and locations although being a bit "dark" were wonderful. The atmosphere and depiction of the hard times were really sobering and make you hope that we never see such hardship for so many again. I am not hung up about slight historical inaccuracies or accents although I am unmistakably from "Yorkshire" should you ever have the chance to hear me. In short I enjoyed it very much and would like to see more Northernly location based historical series in the future.

  • Comment number 38.

    We were so disappointed with the last South Riding, we thought we had missed a big chunk, but we watched all 3 in the series, you had great actors great story line wonderful costumes, what went wrong it just didnt come together, it definitely seemed like you were hurrying through the story and could have got at least 2 more in the series before you got to killing off the main character...shame..very disappointing.

  • Comment number 39.

    So agree with the last comment @ 12.48 that South Ridng seemed more and more rushed through towards the third episode and the end. It was as if the makers were told, after the brilliant first episode, that they now had to squash 6 episodes into 2. So many threads of the story, towards, and including, the last episode were cut off after a first glimpse, and certainly leaving no room, unfortunately to 'get to know' 'get absorbed in', or 'care'. Great acting throughout - wonderful - saved the series, in fact. Pity that there wasn't much more flesh on the bones of the story to make the viewing enjoyable.

  • Comment number 40.

    Firstly I'd like to say how much I enjoyed the mini-series of South Riding. I do think it could have been done more justice with 6 episodes, 3 made it feel slight and missing something. However visually it was beautiful and all the actors made the most of their parts - notably Anna Maxwell Martin, David Morrissey and Penelope Wilton.

    Considering that Andrew Davies adapted it, I thought it stuck pretty faithfully to the book, no dodging the bleak and unhappy bits - it was brave to resist the temptation.

    "But, as Winifred shows us, female education isn't about feeding the mind of the bluestocking but about making women a relevant, dynamic part of society"

    I have to take issue with this statement. If you'd put a "just" in front of the about then I'd have agreed, but female education is about choice, to be a bluestocking or a wife or a mother or an airline pilot if that's what you want - the point as Sarah made it was that you can do or be anything.

    I'm the granddaughter of a Welsh miner but thanks to grammar schools I went to Cambridge - I met some of the brightest women of Winifred Holtby's generation, most of them unmarried, because they were teaching there having started at a time when women had only just been admitted to full degrees (1920/21). They might have been bluestockings, but they were charming, ruthless and instrumental in changing the world and they knew it. Sarah would have been proud.

  • Comment number 41.

    I thoroughly enjoyed this mini drama series am just sorry that there were only 3 episodes made but I thought it was condensed extremely well. I love period dramas and am keeping my fingers crossed for more from the BBC.

  • Comment number 42.

    This was a very good drama. I'm really glad the BBC came up trumps again. South Riding felt like a true story, something that could have quite easily really happened back then. I enjoyed it thoroughly and was very pleased that the film makers didn't change the ending to a happy one for all the characters. That made the series especially poignant. And like some other commentators here, I hope the Beeb is going to make more dramas. There are excellent books out there that cry out to be made into a film - just finished another book by the late Irene Nemirovsky (of "Suite Francaise" renown) called "The Dogs and the Wolves" and "All Our Worldly Goods"; both make excellent Film material.

  • Comment number 43.

    I'd like to add my thoughts even though they are not wildly different to others here. I loved the 3 episodes, and thought the casting and acting terrific. The story was however crying out for more detail, more depth, more episodes. To compress the story into just 3 episodes was to lose so much of the story telling, drama, character drawing and exploration of plots. And yes, I'd love to sit through 10 episodes - I'd rather have 1 good series of 10 episodes than 3 different shows crammed into short runs.

  • Comment number 44.

    I am sorry some of you felt the ending was rushed. It is an odd book at the end, for me very satisfying as a read but quizzical and unexpected, more like Charlotte Bronte's awkward but brilliant Villette than the Jane Eyre which Winifred Holtby so often teasingly alludes to. It is strung out somewhat, human and real but not very dramatic apart from the budget-busting small plane crash that gives Sarah perspective over her life but from which she walks away.

    Rowan, I found your comments very moving and fascinating and you're right, I probably should have put a 'just' in there. I think that we all owe such a debt to the women who came into teaching after both World Wars. Many didn't marry because so many of the men in their generation were lost, particularly after the first World War, and so they stood, as Sarah so emblematically did, in front of the next generation and instilled hope and faith in the capacity of women to join men in shaping the world. What a legacy they have left!

    Thank you all again for your comments.

  • Comment number 45.

    Thank you for South Riding, as I left the Holderness area of the East Riding many years ago, seeing some of the areas that were used in the locations brought back alot of memories, the cliffs with the view of Mappleton church, the Bridlington scenes were I had an ice cream and playing on the beach as a child and of course the sea, I thought the story was well told by all.

    Please note that Rudstone should be Rudston no e

  • Comment number 46.

    I very much enjoyed South Riding; I haven't read the book but did see the 1938 film with Ralph Richardson a long time ago.

    My only criticism of the production was the scene where poor Robert Carne falls over the cliff with his horse. At the top of the cliff the bit on the horse's bridle is a Pelham, with double reins. By the time the horse goes over the cliff and lands in the sea it's managed to change the bit on it's bridle to a Snaffle with one rein.....what a clever horse!!!

    I wish my horse could do that!! (Not fall over a cliff, I hasten to add!)

  • Comment number 47.

    Very upset to see the horse on the beach in South Riding, please reassure me the horse is alive and unharmed.

  • Comment number 48.

    I was disappointed in this serial. I felt that most of the characters (the exceptions being Mrs Beddows and Robert Carne) were unconvincing, and there were occasional anachronisms which were distracting.
    Kate Harwood mentions the fact that "gorgeous Dougie Henshall" had been cast as Joe and yet Sarah rejects him. In my opinion, David Morissey is even more gorgeous!

  • Comment number 49.

    I was also very disappointed with this 3-parter. Has anyone else noticed but in the era this story was meant to depict, nobody said 'have a nice day' in that awful American way nor did they say 'that's a first'. Shame on you Andrew Davies who I assume did the screen/script writing. I also agree this was condensed to the point of almost disappearing.

    Penelope Wilton shone as did David Morissey, Dougie Henshal and of course Anna Maxwell-Martin.

  • Comment number 50.

    "Kate Harwood mentions the fact that "gorgeous Dougie Henshall" had been cast as Joe and yet Sarah rejects him."

    Mind, at the end of the book, Sarah has been carrying a letter from Joe in her handbag for several days, and has re-read it so much she almost knows it off by heart… He's ill again, but he could last a few more years.

  • Comment number 51.

    Almitra @49
    Yes, I nearly switched off at "Have a nice day"!
    Silverwhistle @50
    So Joe may get his just deserts in a "fictional" denouement!

  • Comment number 52.

    Almitra@49 - Another one: no one in England "checked out" of an hotel in the 1930s. They "settled up" or, more usually, "paid the bill".

    I have a more general gripe. I watched successive episodes on different very modern televisions. To begin with, I thought there was something terribly wrong with the contrast: then I realised that one was supposed not to be able to see what was going on - except when a door was opened or the action was outdoors.

    What, exactly, was the point of the film being made in the dark?

  • Comment number 53.

    Well, I don't think anyone usually carries a letter around for days, and more or less learns it by heart, unless love is in the offing.

    I tend to think that when term ends she'll get herself up to Glasgow to see the poor lad. He's on a waiting list to go into a sanatorium, after a hæmorrhage. I don't think she'd want any more regrets about getting things wrong and leaving it too late.

  • Comment number 54.

    I don't know about dark interiors. Presumably a good many South Riding houses were still without either gas or electricity - probably Mr Carne couldn't pay the bills even if he had them, and its looks as though he didn't. Even with gas lighting there were a good many dark corners. It's rather a relief to find this production getting that right - most wartime-set TV dramas are, following the lead of the fifties Rank and other colour flag-wavers, grotesquely over-lit. (And while we're on about anachronisms, why does a BBC website object to my spelling of colour?)

  • Comment number 55.

    First and Second episode had me rivetted and anticipating a great ending , wish I had read the book as I was terribly disappointed with episode three . Everyone I spoke to in work agreed that this was an anti climax and that the BBC should have concluded the series with at least one more episode so that everything was not finalised so quickly. Loved David Morrisey , shame there could not have been another series


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