Tuesday, August 24, 2010

All a bit quick, innit?

The 4 part drama Love on a Branch Line is obviously supposed to be a hilarious look at the uptight white collar worker Jasper Pye as he encounters the wacky inhabitants of Arcady Hall. Instead, it turns out to be a somewhat slow moving story with beautiful scenery. While not much happens, at least the background is very pretty!

In early 1950s England civil servant Jasper has reached a crossroads. He overhears a girlfriend calling him dull, and he decides to tell his mother (with whom he lives) that he's going to quit his job and move to France to become a painter. Before he's able to take this rash step, however, his boss sends him on a mission to close an obscure government department. During the war, the Department of Output Statistics was established to monitor foreign publications and gather information from them. In the intervening years, the 3 person office located in the stately Arcady Hall has been allowed to muddle on without much oversight or direction. The government has decided that the work of the Output Statistics office is done, but they want to send out an officer to confirm it.

Jasper, somewhat of a wishy-washy (as well as dull) character, is bullied into taking the assignment. Once he arrives in town, he quickly becomes acquainted with the odd characters who live and work in Arcady Hall. This consists mostly of the eccentric Lord and Lady Flamborough and their 3 sex-crazed daughters. Lord Flamborough is obsessed with trains, to the point of buying a train, moving in, and having his daughter Chloe drive him back and forth along a disused rail line. His wife is obsessed with gardening, to the point of not caring that her daughters are all to some degree cavorting with any male that comes into their line of sight.

The daughters are all unpleasant. Chloe, the eldest, is married to the perpetually drunken Lionel. She is hardworking, uncomplaining and not inclined to do anything about her unhappy marriage. She is also open to any sort of comforting that passing strangers might offer, as Jasper is pleased to note. The middle daughter, Belinda, is the most outrageous. She is flirtatious to the point of stripping off at the drop of a hat in front of male visitors and running about the grounds of the stately home naked. The youngest daughter, Matilda, is also apparently sex-crazed, although in her case it is explained by her obsession with reading lurid bodice-rippers. Of course, none of these women can keep their hands off the bemused Jasper.

The three person Output Statistics department also proves to be somewhat single-minded. "The Professor" is in charge of the department, but he seems to spend most of his time gardening. Quirk, the "statistician," is only concerned with the local cricket grounds and arranging matches. Miss Mounsey, the secretary, appears to be working, but she is quick to try to distract Jasper whenever he asks to see files or samples of her work.

Once the cast of characters has been introduced, we get 4 episodes of the same thing over and over: the daughters chasing Jasper (from the moment he arrives), the mother gardening, the father on the train, Lionel drinking, etc. The pace of each episode is glacially slow, even though the events were only supposed to occur over 3 or 4 days. While the 3 department employees attempt to distract Jasper from his inspection of their duties, he does rather abruptly come to a decision about their futures at the end of the final episode.

While there is a resolution that was supposed to be satisfactory for everyone, it did leave a lot of questions unanswered. With 4 episodes they could have spent more time explaining some of the loose threads, and less time with the daughters climbing all over Jasper (we got it the first 395 times!). The beautiful "Arcady Hall" and the well-kept grounds were lovely to look at as not much happened, though . . .
Final Verdict for Love on a Branch Line: Two Gherkins, for a not very exciting story told with an amazing backdrop

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