The return of television's feelgood factor

The BBC's Lark Rise to Candleford is helping viewers to forget their woes. And the schedulers want more blues-beating dramas, says James Rampton

The last Monday in January, according to psychologist Cliff Arnall, is officially the most depressing day of the year. It's all apparently down to a combination of debt hanging over from Christmas, failed New Year's resolutions, long dark nights, appalling weather and, this year, overwhelming financial gloom too. But before you get too downcast, help is at hand. Television drama commissoners are queueing up to assist us in staving off the recession-blighted winter blues. They are serving up all manner of wholesome dramatic fare to take our minds off the dire state of the climate (both meteorological and economic). Escapism is all.

ITV1 is showing a raft of untaxing, visually ravishing detective dramas – Midsomer Murders, Poirot, Marple – not to mention the deeply cosy Heartbeat and Wild at Heart, the reassuring series set on a South African game reserve, which starts again this Sunday. Meanwhile, BBC1 is matching ITV1 with any number of undemanding, easy-on-the-eye series. Viewers can escape to the African charm of The No 1 Ladies' Detective Agency, the stolid dependability of 1950s sleuth George Gently, or the fantasy kingdom of Merlin, which has been recommissioned. The BBC will also shortly announce a new Sherlock Holmes story. But perhaps the most cockle-warming of all is Lark Rise to Candleford, BBC1's 12-part adaptation of Flora Thompson's gentle memoirs of her childhood growing up in rural Oxfordshire during the late 19th century. The show, which goes out on Sunday nights, has proved a surprise hit. Broadcast this time last year, the first series averaged almost seven million viewers.

The polar opposite of in-your-face contemporary dramas, Lark Rise is about as edgy as a helping of blancmange. But for all that, it possesses an undeniably beguiling aura. Centred on the Candleford Post Office run by Dorcas Lane (Julia Sawalha), the drama allows you to immerse yourself in an uncomplicated bygone era for a guilt-free hour each week.

The characters' thriftiness also strikes a chord today; as Thompson puts it, the villagers carry "the lost secret of being happy on little". Above all, the drama evokes a bucolic vision of a kinder, gentler world. We like nothing better than losing ourselves in this place quite untouched by sharp-suited short-sellers. Lark Rise is a village where a "credit crunch" would be a nourishing biscuit served in the local tea shop.

Lark Rise is filmed in the distinctly unidyllic surroundings of an industrial park on the outskirts of Bristol. Here, a deserted warehouse has been turned into a studio and filled with all manner of meticulously constructed sets. We wander from the ornate reception hall of the Golden Lion Hotel – all imposing leather-bound armchairs, silver candelabra and oil paintings of storm-tossed sailing ships – to the interior of the Candleford Post Office, whose walls are adorned with pictures of Queen Victoria and a poster reading "syrup of figs is pleasant and effective". It all serves to conjure up an England of lost values (and immaculate furniture).

That is one of the major appeals of the series, which is adapted for the screen by Bill Gallagher. People, it seems, crave a return to the good manners of yore. In a break between scenes, Sawalha speaks for many when she asserts: "I love chivalry. I love doors being held open for me. I can't get enough of all that." The actress thinks there are other reasons why the series chimes with audiences. "For a start, Lark Rise is the costume drama nobody knows about – it's not Austen or the Brontës, and nobody knows the storylines. With something like Tess [of the D'Urbervilles], you're simply watching someone else's interpretation of your own imagination. But with Lark Rise, you can really fly. With its pretty costumes, scenery and music, it's ideal Sunday night telly. It's quite simple and unchallenging. It takes you just far enough so you can have both tears and smiles."

Pausing on the hotel set, in front of a tapestry depicting a grand country house, Annie Tricklebank, the producer of Lark Rise, observes: "You watch some crime dramas these days and they're so dark and full of dead bodies. When I tune in to them, I think, 'oh, I'm so glad I work on Lark Rise!' The great thing is, you can watch this with anyone. There is no bad language and nothing shocking happens. You could watch it with your grandmother or your five-year-old and it wouldn't be a problem – they'd both get something out of it."

Lark Rise has been sold to an astonishing 50 countries. Why does it hold such universal appeal? According to Tricklebank, "everyone can relate to these characters. They endure. People watch the series and think: 'Even though it's set more than 100 years ago, exactly the same thing has happened to me.' The characters are enormously appealing, too. I, for one, would like to join the post office family for tea. They serve the most beautiful cakes and sandwiches."

Finally, there is one more reason why Lark Rise has done so well with family audiences: sex – or, rather, the lack of it. Tricklebank expresses mock horror at the idea of "intimate relations" in this piece. "Sex? In Lark Rise? I don't think so!"



'Lark Rise to Candleford' is on BBC1 on Sundays at 8pm

PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
The frill of it all: Hattie Morahan in 'The Changeling'

theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Gillian Anderson and David Duchovny may reunite for The X Files

tv
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Jeremy Clarkson, left, and Richard Hammond upset the locals in South America
TV
News
A young woman punched a police officer after attending a gig by US rapper Snoop Dogg
people
Arts and Entertainment
Reese Witherspoon starring in 'Wild'

It's hard not to warm to Reese Witherspoon's heroismfilm
Arts and Entertainment
Word up: Robbie Coltrane as dictionary guru Doctor Johnson in the classic sitcom Blackadder the Third
books

Arts and Entertainment
The Oscar nominations are due to be announced today

Oscars 2015
Arts and Entertainment
Hacked off: Maisie Williams in ‘Cyberbully’

Maisie Williams single-handedly rises to the challenge

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Eddie Redmayne in The Theory of Everything and Benedict Cumberbatch in The Imitation Game are both nominated at the Bafta Film Awards
Arts and Entertainment

Academy criticised after no non-white actors nominated

Arts and Entertainment
Damian Lewis shooting a scene as Henry VIII in Wolf Hall
TV

Arts and Entertainment
A history of violence: ‘Angry, White and Proud’ looked at the rise of far-right groups

tv

An expose of hooliganism masquerading as an ideological battle

Arts and Entertainment

art

Lee Hadwin can't draw when he's awake, but by night he's an artist

Arts and Entertainment

TV

Arts and Entertainment
Michael Keaton in the 1998 Beetlejuice original

film

Arts and Entertainment

TV

Arts and Entertainment
Olivia Colman and David Tennant star in 'Broadchurch'

TV

Arts and Entertainment
Michael Kitchen plays Christopher Foyle in ITV's 'Foyle's War'

TV
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Downton Abbey star Joanne Froggatt will be starring in Dominic Savage's new BBC drama The Secrets

Arts and Entertainment
Vividly drawn: Timothy Spall in Mike Leigh’s ‘Mr Turner’
film
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Greece elections: In times like these, the EU has far more dangerous adversaries than Syriza

    Greece elections

    In times like these, the EU has far more dangerous adversaries than Syriza, says Patrick Cockburn
    Front National family feud? Marine Le Pen and her relatives clash over French far-right party's response to Paris terror attacks

    Front National family feud?

    Marine Le Pen and her relatives clash over French far-right party's response to Paris terror attacks
    Woman who was sent to three Nazi death camps describes how she escaped the gas chamber

    Auschwitz liberation 70th anniversary

    Woman sent to three Nazi death camps describes surviving gas chamber
    DSK, Dodo the Pimp, and the Carlton Hotel

    The inside track on France's trial of the year

    Dominique Strauss-Kahn, Dodo the Pimp, and the Carlton Hotel:
    As provocative now as they ever were

    Sarah Kane season

    Why her plays are as provocative now as when they were written
    Murder of Japanese hostage has grim echoes of a killing in Iraq 11 years ago

    Murder of Japanese hostage has grim echoes of another killing

    Japanese mood was against what was seen as irresponsible trips to a vicious war zone
    Syria crisis: Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more refugees as one young mother tells of torture by Assad regime

    Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more Syrian refugees

    One young mother tells of torture by Assad regime
    The enemy within: People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back – with promising results

    The enemy within

    People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back
    'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

    'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

    Survivors of the Nazi concentration camp remember its horror, 70 years on
    Autumn/winter menswear 2015: The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore

    Autumn/winter menswear 2015

    The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore
    'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

    'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

    Army general planning to come out
    Iraq invasion 2003: The bloody warnings six wise men gave to Tony Blair as he prepared to launch poorly planned campaign

    What the six wise men told Tony Blair

    Months before the invasion of Iraq in 2003, experts sought to warn the PM about his plans. Here, four of them recall that day
    25 years of The Independent on Sunday: The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century

    25 years of The Independent on Sunday

    The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century
    Homeless Veterans appeal: 'Really caring is a dangerous emotion in this kind of work'

    Homeless Veterans appeal

    As head of The Soldiers' Charity, Martin Rutledge has to temper compassion with realism. He tells Chris Green how his Army career prepared him
    Wu-Tang Clan and The Sexual Objects offer fans a chance to own the only copies of their latest albums

    Smash hit go under the hammer

    It's nice to pick up a new record once in a while, but the purchasers of two latest releases can go a step further - by buying the only copy