Guilty Pleasures: The Forsyte Saga
Fans of Downton Abbey are abuzz with the anticipation at the January 13 beginning of the newest season. What kinds of proper English intrigues will the viewing audience be delighted with? If you’re like me, it’s been a long wait. Thankfully, I recently discovered a substitute: The Forsyte Saga. It takes place at the turn of the 20th century, and chronicles the life of the extended Forsyte family. Based on several novels by John Galsworthy, it is a period piece soap opera. The main source of conflict is the courtship and then marriage between Soames Forsyte and Irene Heron. Through a number of twists and turns, betrayals and scandals, the family is split in two, its loyalties divided between Soames and Irene. The casting is great, for the most part, and I especially enjoy the evil Soames who is played by Damien Lewis (who is currently co-starring in the excellent series Homeland, with Claire Danes); and the sweet, likeable Jolyon Jr. who is played by Rupert Graves.
Like watching Downton Abbey, much of the interest derived from The Forsyte Saga is the culture shock. In one of the early episodes Irene and Soames’ sister Winifred shock the family when they dance a waltz together in public too soon after Irene’s father has died. I also found the presence of the “men’s clubs” fascinating–houses for men to gather in and play pool, smoke cigars, drink brandy, and entertain prostitutes. Women are not allowed, and when Irene appears in one, desperate to find someone, you’ve never seen such an appalled group of men staring back at her.
Although it’s a great stand-in, don’t expect it to be exactly like Downton Abbey. Its style is quite different. For instance, there are many camera shots that zoom in close on characters’ faces during moments of intense drama, a choice that often seems unintentionally hilarious. The lighting is gray and gloomy, reminiscent of other British series I’ve seen. A large time span is covered; for instance, there’s a 12 year gap in the middle of the first season, which is fine, except that the characters don’t age–even something as simple as gray hair dye isn’t used, so it’s hard to remember that time has passed. Enjoy The Forsyte Saga as its own entity and you won’t be disappointed.
I leave you with this gem from Season 2: “You can’t die, you’re a Forsyte!”