Thursday, August 13, 2015

Long live the Forsytes!

Before Downton Abbey was even thought of, before Upstairs Downstairs, even before the time-honored costume dramas of Masterpiece Theater, there was The Forsyte Saga. And I was its biggest fan. Or at least a really big fan.

The year was 1970 -- the series was first broadcast in 1967 but somehow I missed it. Anyway at the ripe old age of 15, I was watching the series on PBS. Every Sunday night at 8 PM without fail I was glued to the screen of our old black-and-white TV as the lives of Irene, Jolyon, Fleur and most of all Soames, unfolded in Victorian and 1920s England. The Forsytes were a monied and conservative family and the sprawling saga touched on things like unfaithfulness, rape, family rifts, divorce and a host of other juicy subjects.

The actors were attractive and honored English men and women acting in a series where production values could be somewhat questionable. But that didn't matter, I was hooked. And it didn't take long for me to start reading the book that this series was based on -- the similarly named The Forsyte Saga by John Galsworthy. I bought a copy of the hardback and read it till its spine gave out.

Soames (Eric Porter)
An entry from my diary in 1970 -- "I adore 'The Forsyte Saga.'"
Stuck in a small town, an overweight and lonely teenager, I ate up the adventures of the large family. I had a huge crush on Soames, an unlikely target -- he was a inhibited middle-aged man who cherished an undying sense of ownership for his first wife, Irene, a woman who definitely didn't want him. My favorite character had to be Soames's sister Winifred, an affable, normal-looking woman married to a "bounder" who stole her pearls and absconded with a Spanish dancer to Buenos Aires. The series and book brightened my lackluster existence and made life in Creston bearable.

The erstwhile Monty and wife Winifred (1967)
Monty and Winifred (2002)
Fleur (2002)
Flash forward 45 years to the present day when I discovered that my favorite TV show, The Forsyte Saga, had been remade back in 2002. I have been watching reruns on
Fleur (1967)
the local PBS station and enjoying it, possibly even more than I did back in the day. Of course the actors are different and I think it may not follow the book as closely, but I am understanding the series better and getting more out of it, possibly because I'm older, and wiser, and I've been through more life experiences. For example, when I was a teenager, Fleur, Soames' daughter, seemed somewhat flighty -- now she seems very spoiled and childish. Soames comes off as rather insufferable but his sister Winifred still seems like someone who would be my friend.

God has a way of giving me gifts when I need them -- and this new version of my teenage obsession works well to entertain as well as enlighten me. Long live the Forsytes!