“What could be more innocent than visiting the vicar of Cockchaffington?”
So having completely tumbled for the charms of The Way We Live Now, I turned to the following BBC Anthony Trollope adaptation He Knew He Was Right which was also reworked by Andrew Davies and broadcast in 2004. Trollope’s main concern here was the corrosive effect of jealousy and particularly on his lead character of Louis Trevelyan whose marriage and family are broken up as he struggles to deal with the independent mind of his wife Emily as he suspects her of having an affair, and suffers the consequences of a gossipy Victorian society.
And thus the problems started for me – I never once found myself believing or really caring for Louis or Emily or their relationship. Oliver Dimsdale and Laura Fraser both struggled with the likeability factor for me and so as a central plot point, the story lost me from the beginning. More engaging was Emily’s younger sister Nora’s romantic travails as she falls for a penniless writer – Christina Cole and Stephen Campbell Moore just lovely together, and another love story as a kind but poor young companion falls for her mistress’s great-nephew against society’s rules.
But these amusing side-stories couldn’t distract from the fact my eyes rolled in my head every time we went back to the Trevelyans, especially since director Tom Vaughan inexplicably decided to frequently break the fourth wall and have them directly address the audience which came across as a desperate attempt to force an emotional connection which for me was never present.
The quality of the cast is superb though: one subplot contains Barbara Flynn, Claudie Blakley, Fenella Woolgar and David Tennant as two sisters battle for the attention of a slighty vicar under the baleful eye of their watchful mother and this was probably my favourite of the story strands to watch. Anna Massey makes a wonderfully vituperative grande dame and there’s particularly strong work from Geraldine James as the voice of reason in the strong-willed Rowley family.
I haven’t read this novel so I wonder if that had an effect on how much I enjoyed it (whereas I had read The Way We Live Now before watching it) but I’m not so sure, I just don’t think it was as well-constructed a whirl of storytelling and as engaging a piece of television. If you’re picking between the two for one to watch, I’d definitely err with The Way We Live Now.