“DOCTOR THORNE” (2016) Review

 

“DOCTOR THORNE” (2016) Review

Two years ago, the ITV aired “DOCTOR THORNE”, Julian Fellowes’ four-part television adaptation of Anthony Trollope’s 1858 novel. As it turned out, the latter was the third novel in Trollope’s literary series known as the Chronicles of Barsetshire

From what I know, the 1858 novel seemed to have little in common to the rest of Trollope’s Barstshire series. Dr. Thomas Thorne, the main character in “DOCTOR THORNE”, was a distant cousin of Mr Wilfred Thorne, a minor character in “Barchester Towers”. Aside from that, the rest of the characters in “DOCTOR THORNE” seemed to have very little or no connections to the remaining Barstshire series.

The plot for “DOCTOR THORNE” seemed pretty straightforward. Our main protagonist is a respected doctor who has been raising his niece, Mary Thorne, on his own. Years earlier, Doctor Thorne’s ne’er-do-well older brother Henry had seduced one Mary Scatcherd. When her stonemason brother Roger Scatcherd had learned about his sister’s pregnancy, he engaged in a fight with Henry and killed him. Scatcherd ended in prison for several years, his sister gave birth to a daughter before moving to Australia with a new husband, and Doctor Thorne ended up raising his niece and keeping her parents’ identities a secret.

Following his release from prison, Roger Scatcherd becomes wealthy as railway project undertaker, got married, became a father and acquired a baronet. He also becomes a chronic alcoholic. Thorne becomes the family doctor to the Greshams, a local family of the landed gentry. He he persuades Scatcherd to lend money Mr. Francis Greshams, the local squire, who has troubles managing his finances. Within time, much of the Gresham estate is put up as collateral. Meanwhile, Mary forms a close friendship with the Gresham children and falls in love with Frank Gresham, Squire Gresham’s only son and heir of the squire, and he with her. But due to the family’s finances, Squire Gresham’s wife, Lady Arabella, plots to end Mary and Frank’s romance and find a wealthy wife for her son. However, Sir Roger’s only son and heir, Louis Scatcherd, also falls in love with Mary. And like his father, Louis has also acquired a drinking habit. Dr. Thorne is forced to struggle to help his niece find happiness, while at the same time, deal with Lady Arabella’s scheming for her son, and the tenuous financial situation between the Scatcherds and the Greshams.

“DOCTOR THORNE” received mixed reviews when it aired on both British and American television. I suspect that many critics believed that the production seemed to lack the bite of previous Trollope adaptations. And if I must be honest, I agree with them. Overall, “DOCTOR THORNE” struck me as a fluff piece into the life of Victorian society, despite the social snobbery portrayed in the miniseries, along with the fact that two of the characters were alcoholics. I believe it had something to do with the production’s tone. Thanks to Julian Fellowes’ writing, the miniseries felt more like a light comedy with flashes of melodrama. Especially for a story that featured social bigotry, family secrets and alcoholism.

It did not help that the only characters in this story who truly suffered in the end were the members of the Scatcherd family. Personally, I wish that Lady Arabella Gresham had suffered a lot more than a slight embarrassment over the discovery of Mary Thorne’s newly inherited wealth by the end of the story. I found the aristocratic matriarch’s efforts to break up Frank Jr.’s romance with Mary a lot more perfidious than the Scatcherds’ financial hold over the Greshams or even the malice and hostility that Sir Roger’s son Louis had harbored toward the high-born family. After all, the Greshams had found themselves in financial difficulties, thanks to Squire Gresham’s mishandling of the family’s income and the family’s spending habits.

But despite my qualms over the production, I still managed to enjoy it. “DOCTOR THORNE” proved to be a humorous and romantic story about Mary Thorne’s relationship with Frank Gresham Jr. and the obstacles – both socially and emotionally – they were forced to overcome. I also enjoyed the humorous subplot involving the political going-ons in Barsetshire and the upcoming election between Sir Roger Scatcherd and Mr. Moffat, another self-made man who had managed to gain support from the Gresham family. The miniseries also proved to be a poignant family drama involving the Thorne and Scatcherd families, with a big emotional payoff. And all of this romance and family drama was witnessed by the always dependable Doctor Thorne, who seemed to serve as the story’s backbone.

The production values for “DOCTOR THORNE” proved to be top-notch. Production designer Kristian Milsted did a solid job in re-creating Barsetshire, the fictional mid-19th century community (for its middle-class and upper-class citizens) featured in this story. Her efforts were ably assisted by Caroline Story’s art direction and Jan Jonaeus’s sharp and colorful photography, which did justice to various locations utilized in various counties in Southern England. I especially enjoyed the costumes created by Colleen Kelsall as shown below:

However, I felt a bit disturbed when I noticed that the day dresses worn by some of the women characters exposed a bit of cleavage:

Unless I happened to be wrong, 19th century women did not reveal any cleavage during the daytime. It was considered appropriate to do so in the evening for formal dinners and parties. I also noticed in the image above that actress Gwyneth Keyworth is also wearing a flower crown. A flower crown with daytime casual wear? I do not think so. Flower crowns – popularized by Queen Victoria during her wedding to Prince Albert – were usually worn by brides and bridemaids during wedding ceremonies, formal dinners and parties. I have one last complaint. The mid 19th century hairstyles worn by the women cast members seemed spot on to me . . . with one exception:

What on earth was the production’s hairstylist thinking by allowing this modern touch to actress Stefanie Martini’s hairstyle? Or was the hairstylist trying to copy the following look?

The problem is that the above style was prevalent in the 1840s, a decade before the setting for “DOCTOR THORNE”. And Ms. Martini’s “curls” are a tad too short.

The miniseries featured a mixture of solid and excellent acting. I can honestly say that there was not a bad performance in the production. Performers such as Nicholas Rowe, Alex Price, Cressida Bones, Janine Duvitski, Danny Kirrane, Tim McMullan, Nell Barlow all provided solid performances. More solid performances came from Edward Franklin, who seemed a tad over-the-top as the hostile and alcoholic Sir Louis Scatcherd; Harry Richardson, whose portrayal of Frank Gresham Jr. struck me as a bit bland; and Stefanie Martini’s performance as Mary Thorne struck me as charming, but not quite interesting. The real problem proved to be the character, who seemed to lack any interesting personality traits.

One of the more interesting performances came from Rebecca Front, who did an excellent job in conveying Lady Arabella Gresham’s snobbish and ruthless nature. Phoebe Nicholls’ Countess de Courcy (Lady Arabella’s sister-in-law) proved to be equally snobbish and ruthless. However, Nicholls skillfully conveyed how Lady de Courcy’s ruthlessness proved to be more subtle. Richard McCabe did an excellent job of portraying Francis Gresham’s likable, yet slightly weak nature. Gwyneth Keyworth gave an excellent performance as Frank Jr.’s complex and slightly mercenary sister, Augusta Gresham. Kate O’Flynn gave a skillful performance as Augusta’s equally mercenary cousin, Lady Alexandrina de Courcy, who proved to be a lot more manipulative. Alison Brie gave a very charming, yet sly performance as the wealthy American heiress Miss Dunstable, who proved to be a very sensible and wise woman. One of two best performances in the miniseries came from Ian McShane, who gave a superb performance as the alcoholic, yet proud and loyal Sir Roger Scatcherd. The other best performance came from Tom Hollander, who did a superb job as the leading character, Doctor Thomas Thorne, a sensible and put upon man, who constantly struggles to look after his niece from the likes of Lady Arabella and keep Squire Gresham from folding under the weight of debts.

What else can I say about “DOCTOR THORNE”? It is not one of the best television productions I have seen. It is probably the least impressive Anthony Trollope I have ever come across. But despite its flaws, I rather enjoyed it. I found it rather charming and likable, thanks to Julian Fellowes’ screenplay and the excellent cast led by Tom Hollander.