I haven’t written about “The Pandorica Opens” and “The Big Bang”, have I?
Huh. I should. I really should.
But not just now.
After a few months in which Netflix had its way with me (I had the same discs in the house, mostly unwatched, until I finally managed to lose them … and finally threw up my hands and reported their loss to the site and moved on so I can finally start using my subscription again)(Oh! Found ’em), I’ve started actually watching the videos I receive. I have a Twelfth Night with an Anglo-Indian cast (for the Gold-of-Fish Shakespeare series I’m getting underway – and because it sounds fascinating), and Zeffirelli’s Romeo and Juliet (ditto) – and Berkeley Square, which we watched before, apparently, but several years ago, because it’s been almost – almost – fresh. It was only when I accidentally read ahead and was spoiled for two huge plot points that I knew for certain I’d seen it before (which speaks to either my pitiful memory or the length of time it’s been since).
The mini-series tells the intersecting stories of three young women who all become nannies in Berkeley Square. There is Matty Wickham (Clare Wilki), who comes out of the East End to take a post looking after the three St. John (all together now: “Sinjin”) children; there is Lydia Weston (Tabitha Wady), who comes from her family’s farm to work as nursery maid under the formidable Nanny Collins for the Lamson-Scribeners, who are her father’s landlords; and there is Hannah Randall (Victoria Smurfit – aka Rowena Ciarán Hinds’s Ivanhoe and Orla in Ballykissangel), an Irish girl who comes, not quite directly, from a post as a lady’s maid – though there’s a lot more to her story.
Matty is a rigid, black-and-white thinking girl, who intends not to set a toe over the line (yet is frequently reproved for the appearance of having done so by an even harsher critic in her mistress – who isn’t one to talk).
Lydia is a sweet, not-as-naive-as-you-think, sharp country girl who comes to the household of the noble Lamson-Scribeners somewhat against the will of Lord George L-S, and certainly against Nanny Collins’s wishes – but the latter is growing old, and the American second wife to His Lordship, Lady Constance, mother of baby Ivo, puts her foot down. Nanny C sees Lydia as a savage, but gradually comes to appreciate the help (until it seems to have been her idea all along to bring her in). The baby is the start of a second family for Lord George; his first wife had a son who is now in his twenties, Hugh, who starts off charming enough – enough that Lydia develops a deep crush. Which doesn’t go well – as the other girls warned her.
Hannah is an Irish girl who was a lady’s maid – until she fell in love with the lady’s son, who fell in love with her, and in due course produced wee Billy. Wee Billy’s appearance led to Hannah’s dismissal, but that wasn’t so bad as long as the father, William, could look after them … and then, very abruptly, he couldn’t, and Hannah was left on her own. Instead of heading back to Ireland, where there were no prospects for her, she makes for London, and – with forged references and a raft of glib lies and the heaven-sent assistance of a Polish lady to look after Billy – lands a job as nursery maid.
And so, one by one, they enter Berkely Square and join the adventures already in progress. Mrs. McClusky, the housekeeper at the St. Johns’, is sister to the cook – and mother to a handsome young fellow named Ned (Jason O’Mara – of the ironically American Life on Mars), who lands himself in deep trouble with the law. Mrs. M … er, wangles him a job in the household, never letting on they’re related, and sparks between him and Matty are rather inevitable – as are tears when Matty discovers more about him. The upstairs lot aren’t dull, either; Arnold and Victoria St. John aren’t exactly a model couple. While he loves his pretty, younger blonde wife, she has no time for him – she is much more interested in the charms a certain Captain Mason holds. (And she looks like a chihuahua.) And neither of them is immensely interested in the children, Tom (8) and Harriet (4?) and their baby brother, and so despite Nanny Wickham’s best efforts – and she is good – the two capable of showing personality are, while relatively decent, somewhat untamed. Which has devastating consequences.
Meanwhile, over at the Lamson-Scribeners, the family life is somewhat nicer … but Nanny, though getting on in years, is adamant that she does not need help, and is not thrilled when the American missus provides her with Lydia. Not thrilled at all. But Lydia’s not stupid, and can deal with that … what she has more trouble dealing with is the young Lord Hugh, who is trouble in spiffy trousers. There isn’t much positive about Hugh, even when he’s trying to be positive – or claims to be.
And over at the Hutchinsons’ … That family makes the other two look like British Norman Rockwells. The father is pseudo-jolly with poor sma’ Bertie, who is pale and weedy and sounds like he’s permanently stuffed up and looks like he should be in bed. But Papa insists that Bertie will be a soldier. Probably the baby, Charlie, as well, but it’s early days yet for him. When Mr. Hutchinson is posted off to India, and his wife sails with him without a second thought for the children, Bertie can probably hardly tell the difference from when they were home, except that the burden of daily terror of being made to stand and deliver (sharp responses to barked questions on military history) to his father. More difficult than the parents, who at least go away, is the redoubtable Nanny Simmons (Ruth Sheen, also seen as Nurse Ethel Carr in Bramwell), who believes that nannying would be a wonderful job, if only it weren’t for the blasted children. She locks the toy chest – and Hannah’s door when she’s foolish enough to want to tend to the baby when he cries at night – and uses her own methods to try to keep him from crying (probably one reason Bertie’s so weedy).
The mini-series was soapy, well-acted, well-written, and managed to put over even the most absurd ideas. And the photography was surprisingly beautiful – there was some lovely work especially in the last episode, and most especially the final shots. Great archetypal (but not stereotypical) characters, great depiction of 1902 London. Loved it.