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Monday, August 13, 2012

'The Forsyte Saga:' The Carringtons of 'Downton Abbey'

American fans of good period British dramas arguably would have been deprived of current PBS "Masterpiece Theater" megahit "Downton Abbey" if the 2003-2004  "Masterpiece Theater" powerhouse "The Forsyte Saga" had not been such a hit. A poll showed that "Forsyte" was the number two favorite of PBS viewers at the time.

Acorn Media, which is to high-quality classic British television what Shout Factory is to comparable classic American programs, will release both series, my people call them seasons, of the mid-Victorian to early Modern Era "Forsyte" in one DVD collection on August 14, 2012. As a bonus, the collection includes the original UK versions of this 2002-2003 production.

This "Forsyte" was a remake of the classic 1960s version of that epic, which was also a huge "Masterpiece Theater" hit. Fresh memories of the not-so-amazing "The Amazing Spider-Man" and less recent memories of bombs such as the "Bewitched" movie had me in a cynical frame of mind regarding "Forsyte."

I confess as well that the frantic melodramatic pace and bombardment of numerous characters in the opening scenes of the first episode of "Forsyte" added to my skepticism. However, the series won me over within 15 minutes and never lost me.

The action quickly slowed to an appropriate pace for a costume drama, and there were several moments of wonderful humor. My favorite had an elder Forsyte ranting on and on about the ruthlessness of debt collectors who had descended on his daughter's household only to quickly remark that his firm used the same collectors.

The first series revolved around the fortunes and (mostly lost) loves of the 30-something Forsyte generation who could be considered the equivalents of JFK and his siblings minus the political activity and touch football.

The many inter-class romances of the Forsytes, who often recycled significant others among themselves, added a touch of 80s primetime soap "Dynasty," which had its own Forsythe, to the "Downton Abbey" manor house vibe of "Forsyte."

However, the comparison with "Dynasty" ends there. The quality of the acting, writing, and directing of "Forsyte" is much more comparable to "Downton Abbey" than "Dynasty."

Seeing Damian Lewis, who currently plays "Homeland's" earnest but tortured Marine Nicholas Brody, playing arrogant and largely inadequate Soames Forsyte is great fun. The show also has personal favorite Rupert Graves doing a great job as Soames' cousin (and governess romancer) Jolyon Forsyte.

The second series of Forstye, which the Acorn DVD set includes, has the offspring of Soames' and Jolyon's generation contending with their heritage and seeking their own happiness in the era of manor houses giving way to a more egalitarian and urban-based society.

Anyone with questions or comments regarding "Forsyte" is encouraged to email me.