Magazine article The Spectator

At Home with the Forsytes

Magazine article The Spectator

At Home with the Forsytes

Article excerpt

Television

First things first, and so we must acknowledge that the new Granada production of The Forsyte Saga is very good indeed. I've watched nearly three hours now and, apart from some uneasy havering at the beginning when nobody seemed to want to tell us who was who or how they were related, every scene was beautifully judged and played.

Of course it can't eclipse all memories of the BBC original, even though that was 35 years ago, just the year before colour broadcasting began. To most people over the age of, say, 50, Damian Lewis can never quite be Soames Forsyte, simply because he isn't Eric Porter. It isn't fair, especially as Mr Lewis plays the part with great skill. But there you are. In any case, most of the people watching will have no memory of Eric Porter's performance, because it happened half a lifetime ago.

Nor can it make the same impact. There were only three channels in those days (now my son, watching cable, can hop between 50 or so while he tries to find something to catch his flickering attention during the endless commercial breaks) and audiences were correspondingly larger. The year after the original Forsyte Saga was broadcast on BBC 2, it was shown again on BBC 1, and these repeats got audiences of around 18 million, nearly 50 per cent higher than the most popular soaps get now. Since there were no video recorders, if you wanted to catch the latest episode you had to watch it as it was aired. No wonder. the pubs were empty and people refused invitations on Forsyte nights. The series 'riveted' the nation, both in the modern usage fascinated - and in Bagehot's sense of binding us together. The Morecambe and Wise Christmas Special had much the same effect. Nothing binds us in the same way now, except for great news events, such as 11 September and the Queen Mother's death, and even those we can watch on half a dozen channels, before arguing about who caught the moment best, or which newsreader wore the least appropriate tie.

So the nation will not be locked together, but I suspect the audience figures will be good all the same. For one thing Christopher Menaul's direction is remarkably sensitive. The great set-piece scenes - Uncle Swithin watches Bosinney and Irene disappear into the woods together; the lovers dance for the first time; the gruesome sex scene in episode one, after which Irene disappears into the bathroom with a douche to make sure she will not have Soames's baby - are all allowed the space and time to sink into our minds. …

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