Doctor Thorne Review
Once upon a time, the world of BBC period drama was introduced to me by way of the likes of Elizabeth Gaskell’s Wives and Daughters. As a starry-eyed teenager, I was swept up in the romanticism. As an adult, and multiple viewings later, I am still in awe of that magnetism, but can also appreciate that there is more to say than merely its pretty picture inclination. What does Wives and Daughters have to do with today’s review? Well, I shall tell you. The latest ITV miniseries, Doctor Thorne greatly reminded me of the “classic” Gaskell story. It was more the look of the drama than the story, however, which is, really quite different.
Many years ago, a reckless, carefree man and a married woman had a brief affair that resulted in the birth of a daughter. In a blind rage, the woman’s brother, Roger Scatcherd (Ian McShane) murders the man responsible for his sister’s ruin. But as the crime was committed in the heat of the moment and not premeditated, his sentence allows him freedom a number of years later. Some twenty years later, Doctor Thorne (Tom Hollander) is raising his intelligent niece Mary Thorne (Stefanie Martini), the child from that union. Though bright and pretty, Mary is without fortune, separating her from being a desirable match for the young Frank Gresham (Harry Richardson). Frank has fallen in love with Mary, but his mother, Lady Gresham (Rebecca Front) is determined to see them separated.
The Gresham family is of titled aristocratic society but their fortunes of generations past have reversed, which means they are relying on their children to make a good match. Mary has grown up with Frank and his sisters, Augusta and Beatrice (Gwyneth Keyworth, Nell Barlow), and in those many years, she formed a romantic attachment to Frank though she pushes him towards an advantageous marriage. Meanwhile, under the burden of the secret that he’s kept carefully hidden, Doctor Thorne holds the key to a future Mary could have never imagined.
My expectations of Doctor Thorne and what happens once you step inside its world are two very different entities. What surprised me most was the almost “silly” nature of the piece. Every indication pointed to this being a cheerful jaunt, but somehow I didn’t expect its quirky humor. Everything about this, a production that unfortunately seems lost in obscurity, is pure bliss. From the settings (rich in outdoor environments of lush greenery and well lit, daytime scenes inside elaborate estates) to the traditional mid-1800s period authentic costuming, Doctor Thorne was a joy to discover. Ironically, I watched this the same weekend as I did He Knew He Was Right. The commonality being they’re both adapted from novels by Anthony Trollope, yet another fact I was unaware of in going into this.
As I sat down to watch this one Saturday evening with my mother, our plan was to watch only an episode (the series consists of three episodes approximately an hour in length). Much to our surprise, we wound up taking the next two hours to watch the entire series. She likened bits and pieces of it to Pride and Prejudice (Frank even uses some Darcy-esque eloquence), something I do spot glimpses of. For me, I felt it aligned more with an enchanting fairytale, and I saw more of a Cinderella influence. It’s obviously not meant to be a fairytale in the traditional sense, but with Mary’s poor background and Frank’s privileged lifestyle to say nothing of his petty sister and mother attempting to keep them apart, there are similarities.
Saying more than what I already have might be best brought to a close here. There are some nice twists and (sweet) swoon-worthy moments. Mary is a sassy easily respected heroine and I actually applauded when (in the final minutes of episode three) the annoying Lady Gresham is told off (by Doctor Thorne). (Seriously this scene is everything.) The fresh-faced cast of unknown talent makes this seem entirely new while the script penned by Julian Fellowes is sure to pacify fans until his next American project reaches completion. Though this isn’t Downton Abbey, I didn’t want it to be because Doctor Thorne is every bit as good in its own way. There’s hints of mystery, appropriate romances and most important, a cheerful script. All of this means Doctor Thorne is period drama catnip for this aficionado.
Unfortunately, Doctor Thorne is currently only available as a region two DVD set (Amazon.CO.UK). But visiting ITV’s drama site does give us every hope that it will make it across the pond later this year.
Content note: Aside from minor implications about Mary’s parentage, Doctor Thorne deserves no worse than a TV-PG rating. If you are bothered by it, there are a few “tense” moments (a non-graphic fatal riding accident) and a man is perpetually intoxicated.
What do you think about Doctor Thorne? Sound off below….
“The stuff that dreams are made of.”
“You pierce my soul. I am half agony, half hope.
I have loved none but you.”