Lorna Doone – Simply Media DVD Review

John Ridd (John Sommerville) was just a boy when his father, a good and honest man, was brutally murdered by Carver Doone (John Turner). Despite an outward display of respectability, the wealthy Doone family delight in creating havoc and mischief.

As John grows up, he vows to avenge his father’s death. But matters are complicated when he falls deeply in love with the young Lorna Doone (Emily Richard) whose hand in marriage has been promised to her cousin, Carver ….

Subtitled A Romance of Exmoor, Lorna Doone by R.D. Blackmore was originally published in 1869. An instant success, it has spawned numerous television and film adaptations over the last hundred years or more. It’s easy to see why, since it’s a heady mixture of action, adventure, revenge and romance.

This 1976 BBC Classic Serial version is a faithful adaptation (always a hallmark of the Classic Serials) although it does take a short time to tune in to the style of production. Even for those well used to the delights of archive television, some of the 1970’s Classic Serials initially appear to be rather earnest and mannered (the numerous very fake-looking beards are also a hindrance). But it doesn’t take long before the story starts to engross and the small niggles fade away.

Richard Beaumont, as the young John, carries most of the first episode. Although still a teenager, he’d already enjoyed a decent career stretching back to the late 1960’s (including a brief recording contract with Decca records). His John is a pleasing mixture of youthful impatience and innocence and such is the impression he makes that it’s almost a shame when John suddenly turns into the much older John Sommerville.

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It’s slightly odd that none of the other characters seem to age though (which makes John’s transformation from scrawny youth to strapping young man all the more jarring). Possibly it would have been better to have staged this transformation at the start of the second episode, rather than at the end of the first.

Episode one also gives us a brief glimpse of the young Lorna, played by Jennifer Thanisch (best known for appearing as Anne in the Southern series of The Famous Five). John Somerville’s John Ridd is a stolid enough creation but it’s Emily Richard’s Lorna Doone who really catches the eye. Easily the more experienced actor of the two, Richard had just starred in The Glittering Prizes and would later appear in the well-remembered WW2 drama Enemy At The Door.

Plenty of familiar faces are on show. Patrick Troughton plays Councillor Doone, not a terribly large role but Troughton was always good value whatever part he played. Ian Hogg is very appealing as the roguish highwayman Tom Faggus whilst Lucinda Gane (later to play Miss Mooney in Grange Hill) appears as Lizzie, one of John’s sisters. David Garfield, Max Faulkner and Trevor Baxter are amongst those who contribute to a strong supporting cast.

The romance between John and Lorna is a key part of the narrative, with various other subplots – the infighting amongst the Doones, rumbles of unrest in London about the King ‘s conduct – also bubbling away nicely throughout the episodes.

Whilst it’s true that some of the rustic supporting characters err on the ripe side, Lorna Donne boasts some fine performances amongst the principals. If you love the 1970’s era of the BBC Classic Serials then this should certainly appeal.

Lorna Doone is available now from Simply Media, RRP £24.99. It can be ordered directly from Simply here (quoting ARCHIVE10 will apply a 10% discount).

The Cleopatras – Episode Five

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The opening of this episode finds Fluter and his brother and sister barely able to believe their good fortune.  Fluter’s now king, his sister Cleopatra Tryphaena (Emily Richard) will shortly become his wife (thereby strengthening the royal bloodline since Fluter was illegitimate) whilst Fluter’s brother Ptolemy (Graham Seed) plaintively wonders if there’s a small part of Egypt that he could possibly rule.

All three play these initial scenes in a very childlike way, reacting with open-eyed wonder at the events occurring around them.  It’s another left-field acting choice, but it contrasts well with their advisors, Philocles (John Bennett) and General Chaeteas (Morris Perry), who seem very grown up in contrast.  When Fluter’s told that he’s a king and can do anything he wants – such as making Ptolemy the king of Cyprus – he reacts with unbridled joy.  “Two kings and a queen.  We’ll have such fun.”  And Adam Bareham is great fun as Fluter, to begin with he generates a very appealing eager youthfulness that’s quite different from the jaded, back-stabbing maneuvering we’ve previously seen.

It seems likely that Fluter will be hopelessly manipulated by his advisors, but we jump forward to hear Theodotus tell the current Cleopatra that he was one of the greatest kings that ever lived.  The fact that Fluter was Cleopatra’s father leads her to suppose that he’s attempting to flatter her, but he insists not.  This is another interesting narrative choice as it allows the audience to learn the outcome of this part of the story before they know anything else.

Of course, it doesn’t take long before Fluter becomes as autocratic and manipulative as his predecessors, although he does so with an appearance of affability.  In one of the more bizarre scenes in the series (although there’s plenty of other contenders) he tells his advisors that they need to dress as women and imbibe copious amounts of alcohol.  This pains Demetrius (Roger Brierley) who drinks nothing but water, but it’s made plain that to disobey the king’s order is to invite death.  So he bites the bullet and drags up along with the others!

There’s plenty more familiar faces who can be spotted under the wigs and fake facial hair.  John Arnatt squirms delightfully as Sophron, who earns the displeasure of the older Fluter whilst John Savident is Pythagoras, who like all the others has to tread softly around the less affable Fluter.  Moray Watson is another solid performer, he plays the affable Roman, Gabinius, who finds it easy to manipulate the king.

Fluter travels to Rome in order to try and convince them to recognise Egypt as an independent nation and him as their legitimate ruler.  Julius Caesar (Robert Hardy) might be able to help – if the bribe is big enough.  Hardy’s a class performer and Caesar will be a key figure for the next few episodes.  As will, of course, Mark Anthony (Christopher Neame).

It’s either the corrupting influence of power or simply indifference, but Fluter registers very little interest in the news that Rome will shortly invade Cyprus and depose his brother.  Before that happens, Ptolemy elects to take poison – in a nicely played scene by Graham Seed (an actor who did the I Claudius/The Cleopatras double).

His brother’s death, and the loss of Cyprus, angers the people and they move to depose Fluter.  His attempt to find allies leads to a meeting with the Roman officer Cato (Godfrey James).  Cato’s not interested in helping and his discussion with Fluter – with Cato on the toilet, dealing with a particularly stubborn bowel movement – is another of those unexpected moments that (depending on your point of view) either makes The Cleopatras a delight or a despair.

Fluter’s removal from power and his wife’s death sees their daughter Berenike (Shelagh McLeod) take their place.  This inches us closer to the present day as Cleopatra remembers her sister ascending the throne.  Berenike needs to marry in order to consolidate her position and Pythagoras thinks he has the ideal candidate, a member of the Syrian royal family.  He does warn her that Seleucus (Colin Higgins) is a little rough around the edges, which he certainly is.   Seleucus admits he has a body odor problem, but tells her “you just have to get used to it that’s all. Come on, I’ve known girls who’ve quite liked it. They said it gave it a bit of a flavour. Wait till I’m your husband, we’ll have none of this mucking about then.”

It’s another tongue in cheek moment which ends with Seleucus being dragged off by Berenike’s guards.  She couldn’t take his advances any more, so she orders him to be strangled.  She finds Archelaus (Graham Pountney) to be much more acceptable, but their happiness is short-lived (it lasts for about twenty seconds or so) before Fluter and the Roman Army led by Gabinius kill them both and return Fluter to power.

This brings the story up to date and with Julius Caesar and Mark Anthony waiting in the wings, the story of the current Cleopatra will be played out over the closing installments.