In March, ITV hosted a three part drama, written and directed by Julian Fellowes, following Anthony Trollope’s novel, Dr Thorne.
The book was originally published in 1858 and was part of a series called the Chronicles of Barsetshire. It focuses on the key themes of marriage, family responsibility, and of course, the age old problem of money.
The story revolves around Dr Thorne (Tom Hollander) and his relationship to various prominent and eccentric characters within a quaint and fictitious country village and its surrounding area.
Thorne is a humble and wise middle aged man, who lives with his kind-hearted niece, Mary (Stefanie Martini) who is in her early twenties. Mary has been a life-long friend of the Gresham family who are the local big wigs and live in the rather overly luxurious local stately home. But when it becomes clear that Mary and the one and only heir to the Gresham fortune, Frank (Harry Richardson) are in love, Lady Muck, Lady Arabella (Rebecca Front) at the big house puts a firm end to it. Mary may be dedicated to Frank, but she has dubious origins as her parentage is unknown. So poor love sick Frank and Mary are forced apart and look suitably tragic and broken-hearted from scene to scene as they try and decide how to fix their sad situation.
At the same time, there is the drama of the Scatcherd family taking place at their gothic home, Boxhall. Now, years ago when Roger Scatcherd (Ian McShane) was a young man, his sister fell pregnant whilst unmarried, and in a fit of rage, Roger pushed and killed her seducer, which was Henry Thorne, our Dr Thorne’s brother. But once leaving prison, Scatcherd quickly rises in the modern Victorian world as a railway project manager and is made a Baronet. Even although the Greshams are old blood and have an issue with new money, over the years they increasingly lean on Scatcherd as a money lender, and by the time old Roger Scatcherd dies, the Gressham’s home and fortune is tied up in a debt they can never pay. So once old Roger passes away, his vile and insecure son, Sir Louis Scatcherd (Edward Franklin) appears on the scene and threatens to ruin the Greshams and to push Mary and Frank further apart.
During all of this drama, the narrative considers important and relevant Victorian themes such as illegitimacy, marrying out of one’s class, electoral reform and the nature of rural politics.
The series had its up and downs like any other. After the lavish success of Downton Abbey, Julian Fellowes’s fans waited with bated breath to see what his next project would be. Dr Thorne was an interesting choice as even although the historical context, themes of the novel and style of writing that Trollope offers is perfect for Fellowes taste’s, Dr Thorne is not a well-known or popular novel.
However, the story stayed close to the book and didn’t wander away from the integrity of the novel. Fellowes only added mild embellishments to give further information to the viewers that was necessary for understanding. It was also fast paced, humorous and colourful.
The majority of the acting was poignant. Tom Hollander captured the particular combination of moral reliability, tact, energy and intellect in the main character of Dr Thorne. In addition, Rebecca Front was both vicious and entertaining as the oily Lady Arabella, and Edward Franklin was delightfully creepy and vulgar as Louis Scatcherd.
One criticism would be that the costumes were a tad out of date. The young ladies in the episodes wore a bizarre crown of large flowers in their hair, a connection to fashion trend initiated by Queen Victoria. However, considering Victoria was crowned in 1838, and she had departed from this flower fetish quite some time before, then the costumes were out of date.
Another issue was with the editing, camera angles and music. The editing was erratically cut and the angles didn’t compliment the action of the scenes in the way one would expect. It wasn’t even that this new style was unusual but somehow useful, no, it was merely disruptive to the viewing process. At the same time, the music didn’t reflect the narrative and once again, it didn’t allow the scenes to flow naturally, but created an uneasy atmosphere.
Overall, Dr Thorne was a mini-series which adopted all the usual tools applied to rural and light-hearted Victorian dramas. It wasn’t perfect, but it was certainly a happy marriage between Trollope’s unique style and Fellowes’s socio-historical interests and writing visions for this new chapter in his career.
Featured image credit: ITV