Saturday, 9 November 2013

Televison review: The Cazalets

The Cazalets are a large upper-class family with a family estate in Sussex. Before the WWII, all the family used to take their summer holidays here, but now it's become a permanent home for the women and children, away from the dangers of the London Blitz. Eldest Cazalet brother Hugh (Hugh Bonneville), wounded in WWI, is trying to keep the family timber business running. His wife Sybil is in poor health, but tries to hide this from her husband and daughter Polly. Edward Cazalet (Stephen Dilane) lands himself a desk job in the air force. He spends a lot of time in London and not always on his own... Daughter Louise wants to be an actress, even though her mother tries to push her into more 'useful' work. Youngest brother Rupert (Paul Rhys) joins the navy, leaving his second wife Zoe and teenage daughter Clary worrying for his safety at home. 

The homefront of England during WWII has been the backdrop of many period dramas I've watched and loved over the years. From Foyle's War to Land Girls, the many changes taking place in society and the hardships people had to withstand are sure to lead to interesting and touching stories. The Cazalets, based on the books by Elizabeth Jane Howard, is a little known 6-part BBC series. In some recent reviews the series is called 'Downton Abbey in the '40s' and indeed, the two series have some similarities. Both deal with an extended upper-class family and both star Hugh Bonneville... One of the main differences is that there is not much of an 'upstairs, downstairs' theme in The Cazalets. The servants only take a minor role in the series. 

The Cazalets has all that we 'period drama addicts' have come to expect from a BBC period drama: attention to historical detail, good production values and a cast of strong and often familiar actors. Some of the familiar faces in The Cazalets are Hugh Bonneville (Downton Abbey), Anna Chancellor (P&P '95), Lesley Manville (Cranford) and Joanna Page. I really liked Hugh Bonneville in this production. It may not be one of his lesser known roles, but it's definitely not of lesser quality! A special mention should go to the young actresses playing the nieces Polly and Clary. These girls go though some pretty difficult things and show great development in their storylines, all of which is played very convincingly by Florence Hoath and Claudia Renton. 

Multiple WWII related subjects are touched upon in the series, among other conscientious objectors, the changing role of women in society and people waiting for news of their missing loved ones. But above all, The Cazalets is a story about family. Relationships between husbands and wives and parents and children make up most of the storylines. Of the three Cazalet families, I loved the story of Rupert, Zoe and their children the most. Zoe changes a lot throughout the story and though she's annoying at first, you get to really like her and feel for her at the end. I also loved the relationship between Rupert and his daughter Clary. Though just a young girl, Rupert respects Clary and listens to her seriously. Ofcourse, with such a large cast of characters, there are always those you cannot stand. Edward Cazalet is an absolute cad, he treats everyone around him very badly and you cannot help but loath him. A nice secondary character arc was the story of family driver and handyman Tonbridge.

A possible 'danger' in series with large casts is that not every character gets enough screentime. This is not the case with The Cazalets. All three families and all the characters, both children and adults have interesting storylines and show development. 
It was a pity The Cazalets ended so sudden. Though the books of Elizabeth Jane Howard chronicle the life of the family until 1947 (and a new book, out this month, will take them into the '50s), the miniseries ends in the middle of WWII. Most likely there were plans for a second series, but this was never followed through. This means however, the viewer is left with many loose ends and uncertainty about some characters as the series ends and I, for one, don't like that!

For everyone who enjoys WWII miniseries such as Land Girls or likes family dramas, The Cazalets is a little known, but interesting addition to your period drama list!

What to know: A character has multiple extra-marital affairs. Couples are shown afterwards, there is no nudity. One character is raped. A badly burned soldier has a small role. A character has a romantic same-sex relationship. A character is terminally ill and later dies. There are multiple instances of G*d.

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