I see where the Beeb is riding the renewed Period Drama teevee craze to have a go at Blandings Castle. The Telegraph’s reviewer is not impressed with the results:
The characters that fill [P.G.] Wodehouse’s work are untroubled by money, unfettered by society’s conventions, and perhaps, most importantly, unscathed by the Great War. In other words they exist in an England that never was.
Yet Wodehouse has a perspicacity and wisdom that prevent him from being mere froth. And that was the problem with Blandings (BBC One), a six-part adaptation of the Blandings Castle stories. There was no authorial voice, wry, gently mocking, poised with a sinuous metaphor or sprightly adjective. Instead we were on our own with Lord Emsworth (Timothy Spall), his baleful sister Connie (Jennifer Saunders), vapid son Freddie (Jack Farthing) and beloved pig, the Empress, as they went about their lives in a crumbling English stately home.
You can’t invest psychological complexity into Wodehouse’s characters, the clarity and depth comes from the writing, and so the cast were all at sea. The performances weren’t bad exactly, but there was an impression that the cast had raided the charity shop and were merely having a spiffing time in vintage clothing.
[T]he lively chat could not save what was ultimately an arch and rather empty effort. Never were you drawn into the world of Blandings and never did you get a sense of the precise and comic world which Wodehouse created. Jeeves & Wooster, filmed by ITV in the Nineties, failed on this level, too, but at least there, you were rewarded with two performances from Stephen Fry and Hugh Laurie, who knew each other well and understood perfectly the relationship between the
hapless socialite and his capable valet.
As an aside, I would say that the reviewer’s initial observation is two thirds wrong. True, the Great War plays no part in any of Wodehouse’s character psychology (although I recall Jeeves making a vague reference in one story to having served in Military Intelligence). On the other hand, virtually every plot – especially of the Blandings Castle novels – focuses precisely on money and social conventions, usually involving an effort to slip an impoverished and unsuitable young suitor past the basilisk-like eye of Aunt Constance.
Nonetheless, he says the same sort of thing about teevee adaptations of Wodehouse’s work that I’ve been saying for years and years: That Plum’s writing is so finely and precisely balanced – that the genious is in how he tells his stories – that such efforts invariably cause it to collapse like a ruined soufflé. The adapters are then forced to fall back on slapstick.
I recall having seen a Blandings adaptation years ago starring Peter O’Toole, of all people, as Lord Emsworth. In the scale of these things, it wasn’t a bad effort, but it, too, suffered from this slapstickization, thus ruining the thing for me.