- Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1
- Video Codec: VC-1
- Resolution: 1080i/60
- Audio Codec: English Dolby 2.0
- Subtitles: English SDH
- Region: ABC (Region-Free)
- Discs: 4
- Studio: 2 Entertain Video
- Release Date: April 20, 2009
- List Price: £39.99
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The BBC is world-renowned for the unparalleled excellence of its television period dramas. In recent years they have produced acclaimed adaptations of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, Charles Dickens’ Bleak House and, most recently, Elizabeth Gaskell’s Cranford. In 2008, the BBC brought a production of Flora Thompson’s semi-autobiographical trilogy of life in the English countryside at the end of the 19th century to television.
Dealing with the poor hamlet of Lark Rise and the burgeoning town of Candleford eight miles away, Lark Rise to Candleford offers a glimpse into the changing mores of the times and the ingrained class divisions in English society. Using the voice of the story’s narrator Laura Timmins (Olivia Hallinan) to help tell its tale, the series is centered around Candleford’s post office and its postmistress Dorcas Lane (Julia Sawalha). Through the post office, the many secrets and stories of Candleford and Lark Rise surface, from the unrequited love that dare not cross the barrier of class divisions between Dorcas and the countryside’s Squire, Sir Timothy (Ben Miles), to the meddling Pratt sister’s true identities when their rapscallion of a father appears in the town, all things bubble to the surface.
Of course, Lark Rise to Candleford is not without its faults. As an adaptation it is hardly faithful to Thompson’s original texts. The BBC’s adaptation has opted more for a play of manners, in the truest tradition of British authors like Jane Austen or William Makepeace Thackeray. They have crafted a rapturous story with lovable characters Dickensian in their wealth of mannerisms and substance, outside of, perhaps, Dawn French as the reprobate Caroline Arless. French’s character seems so stereotypically crude that she does not fit in with the rest of the production and one longs for her to make haste off the screen when she is given screen time. But, with that aside, the plight of the poor in the era has been camouflaged for a more favorable approach to relations between working class, upper class and poor people to make for better storytelling.
There are flaws, which one must overlook from the very beginning as well. The first episode makes an issue is made over the poor people of Lark Rise having to pay a fee for postal deliveries because they are just outside the eight-mile limit from the post office. Yet, the characters of Lark Rise turn up in neighboring Candleford throughout the series as if they were just around the corner. Still, even with its flaws and major changes to the original novels, Lark Rise to Candleford is an endearing bit of storytelling that very easily holds up to the recent Cranford and should become one of the BBC’s most favored costume dramas, especially given the powerfully portrayed Dorcas Lane by Julia Sawalha who must have put in one the best performances of her career for this piece.
Lark Rise to Candleford was originally produced in high definition and it arrives on Blu-ray in a 1080i/60 VC-1 encoding from the BBC. Alas, high definition production does not necessarily mean a high quality picture. Lark Rise to Candleford looks dull, soft and suffers from inconsistent black levels that are absolutely swarmed with video noise in darker scenes. The picture also suffers from haloing and some occasional aliasing. All of these things deter from the lavish detail in the costumes and sets of this BBC costume drama, which is truly a shame.
Lark Rise to Candleford comes provided with an English Dolby 2.0 audio mix as its only option. It’s a rather disappointing mix as well. There is some obvious clipping on the dialogue which sounds like a consequence of the Dolby compression more than anything else. The soundstage sounds tight, and constrained, with an overall dullness to the sound. With the series being so dialogue-driven, it may be a stretch to think that a 5.1 option would offer much improvement, but it would still have been nice to hear what might have been made of the sounds of the English countryside with a larger soundstage to work with. Otherwise, there is a minor amount of movement across the left and right channels with no low frequencies of consequence.
The difference between the narration and normal dialogue is poorly balanced, with the narration being far too forward and booming, while the levels for the dialogue are set quite low in comparison. The BBC has not yet put out a reference-quality sound mix for any of their dramas on Blu-ray, but this has to be one of their lesser-quality mixes by far.
This release is rather lean in the supplemental department, coming only with the making-of featurette, The Making of Lark Rise to Candleford (1.78:1; 480i/60), and a high definition setup guide. The set is also enabled with the unusual “audio navigation” feature for the visually impaired, which speaks the disc name and menu navigation options.
The Definitive Word
Is Lark Rise to Candleford perfect? Absolutely not, but after a bit of a slow start over the first few episodes, these characters truly come to life. The number of stories that intertwine and the colorful world that these people inhabit will have you fully invested in the worlds of Lark Rise, Candleford, and the lives of their fictional inhabitants. This Blu-ray release may not be top-tier when it comes to picture and sound, but it is acceptable enough given the quality of the material. Recommended.