If you could have any super power, what would it be?
For me, time travel would be up there, high on the list. It might not unseat the ability to fly, turn invisible or read people's minds, but, yeah, I think its a solid 4th.
The other night, by tapping into the powers of a mini-series called South Riding, I traveled to the 1930s so completely and effectively that I can still smell the dusty shelves and moldy sofas.
In a fabulous stroke of luck, I both learned of this production and discovered that my public library had a copy. Starring Anna Maxwell Martin who I loved so much in Bleak House and in North and South, set in the sadly overlooked 1930s, and dealing with the well-worn but always dramatically interesting topic of inspired teacher introducing a new vision of education to a languishing student body, this sounded perfect! As if this all weren't enough, and truly it was, the production also starred Peter Firth and Penelope Wilton, both of whom I have tremendous respect for.
If you have a predilection for period drama, you, like I, can easily appreciate the value of immersing yourself in a different time period. But if you don't -- well, I'm not really sure how to explain the attraction. I think it lies with that feeling of time travel. When every piece of furniture and clothing, the props, caricatures, music, and cars, the look of the street, and the glimpses into whatever tools and technology were available to people in the period du jour are "correct," there is a sense of transportation that is just heady. I can picture my grandparents and their struggles and style of living so well (though I accept that rural Ohio and Yorkshire are a long way apart).
South Riding simply excels at the art of time travel. It is gorgeous and evocative. And because the 1930s is such an interesting time that is not often done (I'm thinking I Capture the Castle and Cold Comfort Farm), I was fascinated. Such an odd time stuffed in between two world wars with a strangely modern feel, as cars and telephones pepper the background, but still so poor and rural and lacking in most of the social innovations that are more important to our modern life than iPods, the 30s are an era that should be remembered. Doing so is like bringing old photos back to life.
Here, our themes of love, loss, politics with a very small "p", clashing world views, changing times and small time money grubbing were skillfully handled by the astonishingly solid, deep cast.
Penelope Wilton was outstanding as the supportive council member, playing a key role in both Sarah and Robert's lives with subtlety. And Peter Firth was hilariously slimy with a serious birth-control haircut. Not a role for the Firthies to relish as he is small time slick and priggish. Revel in his acting but not in his attractiveness here! And his scenes with his cat were purrfect. Actually, the cat was a great actor as well : )
The whole thing is cloaked in a thick, sluggish, dreamlike mood. And all is not happy and wrapped up cleanly. But the sad plot points seem to match the time frame well and suit the story.