Wednesday 24 Sep 2014
Anna Maxwell Martin and David Morrissey lead the cast in Andrew Davies's new three-part adaptation of South Riding, by Winifred Holtby, for BBC One. This 20th-century classic is a rich and panoramic portrait of a Yorkshire community in the Thirties that carries surprising and refreshing echoes of our own time.
Writer Andrew Davies says: "What appealed to me most about South Riding is how fresh and relevant it feels, even though it was written and set in the Thirties. It's a terrific love story but it's also a portrait of a whole community in turmoil, with the country in recession, and bitter struggles between the advocates of change, like our heroine Sarah the new forward-thinking headmistress, and the forces of conservatism embodied in Robert Carne.
"It's also full of rich comedy, with some wonderful minor characters, splendidly cast. I feel as if we've rediscovered a forgotten masterpiece."
Ben Stephenson, BBC Controller, Drama Commissioning, says: "Following on from Small Island and A Passionate Woman we continue to reappraise the BBC's approach to period drama – there are no cosy clichés here – this little-known novel paints a raw and real portrait of a rural community bustling with humanity and humour."
In the long aftermath of the First World War, Sarah Burton (Maxwell Martin), comes home from London to Yorkshire. Having lost her chance of marriage and motherhood with her fiancé's death in the trenches, Sarah has become a very modern career woman, one of the "surplus two million" identified by the Daily Mail in 1920 as women who were unlikely to marry since their generation of men had been wiped out by war.
Now in her thirties, Sarah has come home to take up the position of headmistress at a struggling Yorkshire high school for girls. She is the very image of a modern woman, much more recognisable to her sisters in 2010 than she would have been to her contemporaries in 1935, full of ambition, passion and fire to take her life into her own hands and live it to the very limit of her strength.
But love has not finished with Sarah Burton – before the end of the story she must choose between the career she has fought for and the man least likely to have won her heart.
As Britain emerges from the Great Depression, Robert Carne (Morrissey) finds he is an unlikely victim of a financial disaster. His family has farmed the South Riding for hundreds of years and he ought to be able to ride out the agricultural depression, cushioned by generations of family wealth.
But Carne is a man haunted by love, and he has spent most of the farm's income over the past 20 years trying to wipe out the guilt he still feels for the woman he believes he destroyed.
Past and present collide when Sarah Burton returns to the South Riding and clashes with the handsome haunted gentleman farmer. Their story is only one strand of a rich skein which tells the story of a small town community instantly recognisable to any age and in any part of the country.
Full of humour, pathos and tragedy, South Riding also tells the story of Lydia Holly (Charlie Clark), a 14-year-old girl with a difficult home life whose education is in jeopardy when her mother dies and she slips through society's safety net.
Shaun Dooley is Lydia's feckless father, Mr Holly; Miss Sigglesthwaite (Brid Brennan) is the incompetent science mistress of the high school who struggles to instil order over her pupils; Midge Carne (Katherine McGolpin), is the delicate and troubled daughter of Robert and his ill-starred first wife; Councillor Huggins (John Henshaw), by turns noble and ludicrous, is a methodist preacher much troubled by lustful thoughts who becomes embroiled in a game of political corruption way beyond his understanding; Alderman Mrs Beddows (Penelope Wilton), is the county's first woman Alderman whose sensible and competent demeanour belies a girlish heart that has inconveniently fallen in love with an unsuitable man; and Joe Astell (Douglas Henshall), is the Riding's only socialist councillor and rival to Carne for Sarah's affections.
South Riding is a rich, compassionate and humane story of politics in small places and, in the end, the indestructibility of the human spirit.
Made by BBC Drama Production North for BBC One, South Riding is currently filming in Leeds for transmission later this year. Written by Andrew Davies (Bleak House, Sense And Sensibility, Little Dorrit, Anglo-Saxon Attitudes).
The producer is Lisa Osborne (Little Dorrit), the director is Diarmuid Lawrence (Desperate Romantics, Little Dorrit, Emma, Anglo-Saxon Attitudes) and the executive producers are Anne Pivcevic (Sense And Sensibility, Little Dorrit, Waking The Dead) and Hilary Martin (Sense Of A Sexual Nature, No Angels).
Kate Harwood, BBC Controller, Drama Series and Serials, says: "Published posthumously, South Riding is a rich and brilliant novel full of optimistic hope for the future and we are proud to be bringing Andrew Davies's wonderful adaptation to the screen with such a brilliant cast and team.
"Like all great period drama it shines a light on us and our society while introducing us to a world and characters that I believe the audience can take to their hearts."
BBC Drama Production is a world leader in producing much-loved and critically-acclaimed dramas – these include four-year-round shows EastEnders, Casualty, Holby City and Doctors. Recent productions include Luther, Five Daughters; Five Days; Survivors; Gracie!; Cranford Christmas; Lark Rise To Candleford; Waking The Dead; Silent Witness; Breaking The Mould; Criminal Justice; A Short Stay In Switzerland; Desperate Romantics; Moses Jones; and House Of Saddam.
This year marks 75 years since Winifred Holtby's death – Holtby died aged 38, in 1935.
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