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To the Manor Born: The Complete Series (review)

Upstart millionaire entrepreneur buys ancestral estate of upper-crust but destitute patrician. Gently witty class comedy ensues, as only the BBC can produce. Over the course of 20 half-hour episodes spread over three years — 1979 to 1981 — Richard DeVere (Peter Bowles) and Audrey Fforbes-Hamilton (Penelope Keith) spar over matters of taste, propriety, and the appropriate behavior for landed folk, and dance around their simmering attraction for each other. (A bonus disc includes a 1979 Christmas special and four never-filmed radio episodes.) The series has held up quite well, 25 years later, and not just in a technical sense, though the audio and video are practically perfect. No, what has yet to run out of steam is the perverse charm to be had in watching Britain cling to its outmoded yet romantic ideals of aristocracy, despite the impossibility of maintaining such a system — “recently impoverished gentry” would seem an oxymoron if it weren’t so obviously a major issue in contemporary British society. And watching old-money-with-no-money clashing with new-money-and-rolling-in-it has a certain revolutionary, democratic appeal for American audiences, like we’re watching the scales get rebalanced right before our very eyes. And it doesn’t hurt that Bowles and Keith are two of the best British comedy has to offer.

MPAA: not rated

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