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Cazalets, The (2001)

Courtesy of BBC

Main image of Cazalets, The (2001)
BBC, tx. 22/6-27/7/2001
6 x 60 min, colour
DirectorSuri Krishnamma
Production CompanyBBC/WGBH Boston
ProducerVerity Lambert
AdaptationDouglas Livingstone
Original WorkElizabeth Jane Howard
PhotographyRobin Vidgeon

Cast: Hugh Bonneville (Hugh Cazalet); Stephen Dillane (Edward Cazalet); Paul Rhys (Rupert Cazalet); Lesley Manville (Villy Cazalet); Joanna Page (Zoe Cazalet); Anna Chancellor (Diana Mackintosh)

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The lives and loves of three generations of the prosperous Cazalet family during the early years of the Second World War.

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Above all else, The Cazalets is about families, not only how they start, grow and even fade, but also how they can transmute into something new, especially sr under pressure. The six-part series is based on the first two of a quartet of autobiographical novels by Elizabeth Jane Howard, whose focus, especially in the second book, is mainly on the way the outbreak of war is perceived by the three young cousins, Polly, Clary and, especially, Louise. Although Howard said that all three characters were drawn from her own war experiences, this is especially true of Louise, who, like the author, is 16 years old when the war begins, initially seeks a career on the stage and eventually marries a man serving in the Royal Navy.

The ties between parents and their children, especially fathers and daughters, are acutely explored. The patriarch, known as 'The Brig' (short for brigadier), dotes on his sons Hugh, Edward and Rupert, but takes his reticent daughter Rachel for granted. Edward (played by Stephen Dillane with just the right mixture of charm, insouciance and emotional remoteness) is a practiced and persistent philanderer whose view of women is so egregiously lopsided that he even tries to seduce his own daughter. On the other hand, the genuinely loving and mature relationships between Hugh and Rupert Cazalet and their respective daughters Polly and Clary are handled with great delicacy and, in the scenes leading up to the death of Hugh's wife, considerable poignancy.

Equally affecting is the depiction of Rachel's almost child-like love for her girlfriend Sid, which although absolute, remains fundamentally non-sexual. When Sid eventually coaxes her into bed, it is both the tenderest moment in the series and the saddest, as Rachel's fundamental incomprehension of the physical side of love remains resolutely unchangeable.

In its prettified, upper-middle-class way, the drama ambitiously attempts to represent a surprisingly pluralistic and amorphous view of life and love, testing the very limits of the concepts of 'family' as the Sussex household of the Cazalets, appropriately named 'Home Place', grows throughout to include a large number of illegitimate children, pets, distant relations, friends, aged teachers (Patsy Rowlands, in her last screen role) and, eventually, wounded soldiers.

The novels span ten years from 1937 to 1947, but unfortunately the television version didn't continue after its initial series and so stops at the half way mark, leaving the fascinating characters in an unintentional limbo.

Sergio Angelini

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Video Clips
1. War is declared (1:43)
2. Prospects (3:30)
3. Christmas Day (4:14)
4. An evening out (3:03)
Complete episode (57:04)
Ackroyd, Barry (1954-)
Bonneville, Hugh (1964-)
Lambert, Verity (1935-2007)
Lumley, Joanna (1946-)
WWII Dramas