In A Land Of Plenty

BBCZ, starts Wed 10 Jan, 9pm.

These days, a book barely has time to be a bestseller before it’s a major film or TV series. The rights are snapped up long before the end of the first print run and before you can say the words ‘literary event‘, last week's literary event is back on display with a new sleeve that’s also a film poster, CD cover and merchandising logo.

A case in point is Tim Pears' 1997 page-turner In A Land Of Plenty, the latest hit novel to be fashioned into a ten-part dramatisation by the BBC. Charles Freeman a wealthy manufacturer who has prospered in England’s post-war industrial north - marries Mary and sets up home in a rambling country pile. Three boys and a girl follow in rapid succession, all brought up under the burden of their father's expectations. Only sensitive middle son James inspires the confidence of his passionate, lonely mother. There follows the usual epic of love and tragedy as the children grow up and morph into familiar lookalike British actors.

As Pears' story spans four decades in the lives of the Freeman family set against a concrete period backdrop, In A Land Of Plenty will not seem out of place amongst all the 605/705/805 nostalgia trips that have been chucked from our screens lately. Period is established with a 'rock 'n' roll years' soundtrack married with



A dreamy epic of love and tragedy

iconic archive footage: the 1966 World Cup final, Thatcher quoting St. Francis outside Number 10 etc.

So far, so Our Friends In The North, and doubtless the producers had one eye on the success of that earlier series when choosing which novel to adapt for this winter season. Like Pete in Our Friends, James goes on to become an angry young photographer, who just happens to be present at every major political and cultural phenomenon in recent British history. Oh, and he’s carrying around an unrequited love for childhood friend Laura who ends up with black sheep brother Robert.

Other elements of the story are so familiar from this type of northern family saga that they might as well sport a flat cap and whippet and call themselves Catherine Cookson. The story's women are idealised and tragic while the men communicate through violence and there's plenty of below stairs rumpy-pumpy between the children of the house and the servants.

While it would be gratifying to see more quality, original drama on television, In A Land Of Plenty is a gripping, infectious story and the production values are high. The series is distinguished by the storytelling’s dreamy quality, related in flashbacks and becoming less fragmented as the tale progresses. There are particularly strong turns from Robert Pugh and Helen McCrory while director Hettie Macdonald has enticed engaging performances from the young cast.

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