Saturday, February 9, 2013

Berkeley Square (1998) - aka The crazy lives of Victorian nannies


BBC One 1998
Starring: Clair Wilkie,Victoria Smurfit,  Tabitha Wady
Created By: Suzanne Van de Velde
Written By: Deborah Cook, Lillie Ferrari, Suzanne Van De Velde
Directed By: Martin Hutchings, Richard Holthouse, Lesley Manning, Richard Signy

This is a Victorian age costume drama that focuses on the trials and tribulations of 3 very different nannies and the families they work for in the posh Berkeley Square. This was a recent addition to my local library's collection and I'm guessing it was likely added because of the Downton Abbey hysteria.  While it does not touch the production quality and sheer addictiveness of Downton Abbey, it does share some elements and would likely be enjoyed by DA addicts.

Berkeley Square is, at its heart, a soap opera mostly staying within the bounds of reality except for one particularly macabre and wacky storyline involving a baby swap.  It spends most of the time with its three central domestics with the occasional subplot involving their employers, particularly the St. Johns and the Lamson-Scribeners.  Each of the three nannies is quite different and has their own particular storyline which are woven together by their growing friendship and the associations between their employers.

Nanny Matty Wickham is probably my favorite.  She's a native Londoner who has already paid her dues in domestic service and is the only one of the three being hired on as head nanny.  She is very kind but also a very straight-laced and proper young lady who takes her job very seriously.  The St. John household which she enters is filled with vice - an estranged husband and wife who mostly ignore their children, a housekeeper, Mrs. McClusky, with some un-savoriness in her past and who isn't above hiring her relatives on the sly to fill the other domestic posts.  Matty and the housekeeper clash at first as Matty is seen as stuck up and demanding but their relationship is complicated when Mrs. McClusky's seemingly ne'er- do-well-and-in- trouble-with-the-law but very handsome son, Ned Jones is inserted into the household as a footmen.  Sparks fly; first of conflict, then of a different variety; between Ned and Matty.

Hannah Randall is an Irish ladies maid who fell in love with and bore the child of the son of her wealthy family.  When he is killed she is thrust upon the world, a single mother, no references, no seeming way of supporting herself.  She's strong-willed however and travels to London hoping to con her way into another domestic position.  When she gets a job as a nursemaid she must leave her child with her Polish landlady.  The family she goes into is the strangest with a horribly cold martinet head nanny and a truly creepy little boy named Bertram.  There are all sorts of shenanigans within this family as well as involving Hannah's former employers who's grandson she has.  This storyline is by far the most gothic and over-the-top.  Victoria Smurfit is a charismatic screen presence and does well with the overwrought storyline.

Finally, Lydia Weston is an ignorant country girl who is given the opportunity to become a nursemaid in a big London household.  This is a big social step up for her and much of her storyline centers around her naivete and lack of city manners.  

 The season is 10 episodes long and is chock-full of drama with a capital D.  I got pretty sucked in and was therefore disappointed to discover at the end of this series of episodes that the show was not continued for a 2nd season.  Some major story arcs are closed and resolved but the season does end with a number of loose ends that were obviously meant to fill the bulk of the next season.  So that would be my one caution - if you are someone who gets really put-out by unresolved stories I would beware.  Otherwise this is a great diversion in between episodes of Downton Abbey!


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