The holidays have given me a welcome chance to catch up on some of the fall’s video offerings, few of them more engaging than Blandings, a new British TV adaptation of the stories of P.G. Wodehouse. Wodehouse, an astonishingly prolific writer who died in 1975, cranked out a lengthy series of novels and short stories that delightfully deflated the pomposity of the English idle rich, never more brilliantly than in his stories about hapless Bertie Wooster and his resourceful valet, Jeeves.
That set of stories inspired, and that’s the only appropriate word, Jeeves and Wooster, an absolutely dazzling British TV series starring, respectively, Stephen Fry and Hugh Laurie (House) in the title roles. It’s one of the pinnacles of British TV comedy and, frankly, if you haven’t seen it, stop reading now and log onto Hulu, which has the entire series available for streaming.
Blandings, now available in a six-episode, two-DVD set encompassing its first season from Acorn Video, is drawn from an entirely different series of Wodehouse novels and stories, this time set at Blandings Castle, circa 1929, where Clarence Threepwood, Lord Emsworth (former Oscar nominee Timothy Spall), would love nothing more to devote his every spare moment to his rose garden and, even more, the true apple of his eye: the Empress of Blandings, an enormous show pig who has the run of the estate.
Those dreams are vexed, however, on two fronts: his dimwitted son, Freddie (Jack Farthing), who is perpetually penniless despite a generous allowance, and Clarence’s formidable sister, Connie (Jennifer Saunders of Absolutely Fabulous, in one of her best roles), who is determined to ensure the family reputation is preserved.
Connie has so successfully cowed her brother that in most cases she has only to issue her most dire threat – “I shall go to my room!” – to get her way, although in one particularly tense confrontation included in this set, she goes completely Lady Macbeth, telling Clarence, “I shall stab you through the heart and have your mutilated corpse dragged around Blandings by a donkey. Naked. The donkey shall be clothed to amplify your total degradation.”
And that’s generally how Wodehouse characters talk. In any other context, if someone entered a drawing room looking for a character named Angela, another person in the room might say simply, “She’s not here.” A Wodehouse character, however, replies, “This drawing room does not seem overstocked with Angelas.”
Stephen Fry’s Jeeves may be missing in this series, but he has a worthy surrogate in Beach (Mark Williams), Clarence’s long-suffering but doggedly loyal butler. You may not recognize Williams’ name off the top of your head, but you definitely know him – he was Ron Weasley’s dad in the Harry Potter movies, and he is a swiftly rising character actor worth watching (he has the title role in a newly syndicated TV series adaptation of G.K. Chesterton’s Father Brown mysteries).
Guest stars in season one of Blandings include David Walliams of Little Britain fame as a personal secretary hired by Connie whose autocratic style clashes harshly with Clarence (and Beach) and Jessica Hynes from the very funny miniseries Twenty Twelve as a penniless aristocrat who sets her cap for Clarence.
A second season of Blandings has been greenlit for production in 2014. For now, this Acorn set will give Wodehouse fans hours of pleasure.