I'm an unabashed Anglophile, and I'm not sure if it's because my grandfather was British, one of my best friends lives in London, or that I spent so much time in Australia growing up (watching British shows), but I love the very English combination of normal-looking (and sometimes odd-looking) actors, phenomenal writing, and bucolic settings that are part of the TV-show formula there.
If you're not into somewhat slower-moving plots, focus on detail, lots of time in overgrown gardens, a reverence for history, quirky characters and downplayed emotions (until they explode, of course), then stop reading now.
But if you find yourself getting sucked into what I see as the England's second-best export after Ribena — their fantastic television shows — and want more, here are my suggestions, all free on Netflix. (While you're waiting for "Downton Abbey" to start back up in January, that is.)
"Call the Midwife" begins in 1958, and follows the adventures and learning experiences of a set of nurse-midwives working in London's poor East End, where families are large and medical care is scarce. The very young nurses work in tandem with nuns from Nonatus House, and live with them at the nunnery. The nurses are smart, compassionate young women of their time, with varying moral standpoints and widely divergent looks (one is a dark and complex character, another conventionally pretty and outgoing, a third is petite, plain and sensitive, while the fourth is bigger than most men but comes from a wealthy family). The nuns are equally nonsimilar, with significant differences in the way they handle emergencies — together they form a strong and trusted community. Viewers get an inside look of what it was like to be poor, female and uneducated 50 years ago, a perspective rarely seen on TV — set in the same time period, this show is the flip side of "Mad Men."
"Rosemary and Thyme" is a classic whodunnit TV show (think "Murder She Wrote") — except all the murders have a horticultural theme. That's right, each mystery is committed because of, and/or solved by the main sleuths' understanding of gardens and plants. Filmed in some incredible gardens, natch, the lady detectives (Rosemary Boxer and Linda Thyme) are not only fun and funny (and passionately independent), they are as astute and knowledgeable about plants as they are about motives for murder. A fun romp through the British countryside, filled with wood-paneled pubs, beautiful estates and, well, plenty of dead bodies.
"Land Girls" is a BBC dramatic series that is set during World War II, and looks into the lives of the ladies involved in the Women's Land Army. During the war, while the men were off fighting, women were brought in to do the farm work that men were unavailable for — there were equivalent organizations in the U.S. and Australia during the same period. Land Girls (as the women were called, since it was generally the young and strong who did this kind of work), the TV show is set on the fertile fields surrounding Hoxley Manor, so there is not only the drama inherent to young women from disparate areas brought together, but also class struggles — a staple of the more stratified British society, especially at that time.
"The Grand" was made in the late 90s (compared to the rest of the shows above, which are all from the 2000s or are still airing), but since it's set in Manchester in the 1920s, it doesn't much matter. The hotel is run by the Bannerman family, and there is plenty of drama among family members, between guests, and of course, the staff of the hotel. Social mores — like single women without family ties living alone — are tested, and it's always interesting to see how much has changed in 100 years (and how much hasn't)!
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