Thursday, February 23, 2012

Guilty pleasures: Monarch of the Glen


I am not a TV person. My preferred storytelling mediums are books and films: I generally have little patience for TV dramas. Dramas, with their drawn-out, repetitive, convoluted story lines. Dramas, with their over-abundance of births and deaths, marriages and divorces, hookups and breakups, and, well - dramatic things.

The other thing about TV shows is they take such a DARN LONG TIME to watch. 13 one-hour episodes in a season? I could re-read a Jane Austen book in the time it would take me to watch that. In most cases, Jane Austen would win hands-down.

So, there has to be something very special about a show for me to stick with it. Other than that most diverting program chronicling the adventures of a certain inimitable Doctor, the only TV show that I've ever grown significantly attached to is. . . Monarch of the Glen.


For those of you who are not familiar with the show, here's MotG in a nutshell:

Monarch of the Glen was a BBC drama (it went for 7 seasons) set in present-day Scotland. An elderly lord - or laird - and his wife live in a castle on their estate in the Scottish highlands. It is difficult to make a profit out of the land, and for years they have been losing money. Their son, who lives in London, pays a visit to the family home, and is shocked at the state of affairs. Eventually he decides to leave London and move back to Scotland, where he can devote all his time and energy to saving the family’s ancestral house and lands, and making them profitable again. He takes the reins from his ageing father, and becomes laird of the estate - and the “monarch of the glen”. The son also happens to be quite young and good-looking. Cue numerous "romantic interests". 

I don't know what it was - the setting, the characters, the cast - but there was something about Monarch that I found absolutely irresistible.

I LOVE Scotland, and I love the highlands, and the gorgeous landscapes featured in this series, and the houses, and lochs, and EVERYTHING. I WANNA GO TO SCOTLAND!!! Ahem. I must exercise more restraint in my use of the caps lock for the remainder of this post. But seriously, how could you not love a show where THIS is the main setting?

Ardverikie House, "Glenbogle House" in MotG

The fact that my ancestors came from Scotland also helps make the show extra special for me.

I'm moving there one day. To Scotland, I mean, not to the Victorian castle pictured above (unfortunately). 

Aside from the beautiful setting, what made this show work was the fantastic chemistry between all of the cast. Scottish actor Alistair Mackenzie was good in the lead role of Archie MacDonald, though I was disappointed with how his character was written in later series. Susan Hampshire was radiant as Archie's mother, Molly; and Richard Briers was excellent as dad, Hector.

One of the highlights of this show, as any "Boglie" will tell you, was Julian Fellowes in his guest appearances as Kilwillie. (Yes, the same Julian Fellowes who has won Oscars and Golden Globes and Emmys and who-knows-what else for his screenplays for Gosford Park and Downton Abbey.)

Dawn Steele was wonderful as cook and housekeeper (of sorts), Lexie. She brought tremendous energy and personality to the role, and had loads of chemistry with Alistair Mackenzie/Archie. In a parallel universe, if I were a much less shy version of myself, I would be a slightly more demure version of Lexie. 

The writing of the show was good. In the long term, I didn't like the progression (or lack thereof) of the story arc and characters, but the episodes themselves are tolerably well written, with plenty of humour.

Whilst I would consider myself a fan of MotG, I'll be first to admit that this show had its flaws. Serious flaws. The first series, though not perfect, had plenty of charm, but I felt that the show deteriorated as it progressed through further series. As I said above, I was disappointed with the character and plot development in later seasons. The departure of several core cast members didn't help, either.

So, while Monarch of the Glen didn't live up to its potential, it still remained enough charm, enough of that magic "something" to make me persevere with the show. I am still working my way through it, having started the beginning of the first series sometime last year. I'm now up to the fourth series. I go on a Monarch binge whenever I get sick and want to watch something comforting and not too demanding. For 45 minutes of charming escapism, nothing beats an episode of Monarch of the Glen.

MotG is a "family" show, but parents should take the PG rating seriously. One of the few things that bothers me about this series, from a moral perspective, is that it is implied - and accepted as normal - that couples sleep together before marriage. I know it's only a true reflection of our culture, but it bothered me nonetheless. . .

So - I thought that I'd share this post, since I think many of my gentle readers would appreciate this - er - gentle show. Get it from your library if you can. I understand the Region 1 DVDs retain the original 16:9 (widescreen) screen ratio, so if you're in North America - lucky you! And if you can't get access to the DVDs, there is always Youtube. 


I should also mention that Monarch of the Glen was loosely - emphasis on loosely - based upon Compton Mackenzies' Highland novels. The books are, I understand, very different from the series, and are set in the 1940s, when they were written. I haven't read the books, but I'm keen to give them a look. If they have half the charm and humour of the series, they should be worth reading.

If you've seen any of the show, let me know what you thought. If you're a more-or-less rabid fan, like yours truly, please introduce yourself! And to the uninitiated, if I've inspired you to give MotG a try, please tell me what you think of it afterwards.

And please share any favourite TV shows that you're particularly fond of! Any suggestions for things that you think I might enjoy? 

I've just realised I've said the word "please" three times in about three sentences. Oh so what, I'm just trying to be polite, and I'm too tired to edit and rewrite any longer. Goodnight world!


Anne-girl said...

Welcome back Elise! Its great to see you posting again!

Miss Elizabeth Bennet said...

I've wondered about Monarch of the Glen. I intended to watch it, but never really did (well, I saw a little bit of it, but not much). I may have to try it sometime.

Suzanne said...

Would love to know your thoughts on Downton Abbey.

Deanne said...

We were first introduced to Monarch of the Glen when staying with Paul's grandmother on 2000, we watched it regularly for a while, caught a couple of repeats not long ago.
Your review was spot on!

The Editrix said...

Thanks, Anne-girl!

Miss Elizabeth, I'd say it's worth giving the first season a try. If you don't enjoy the first few episodes, don't bother with the rest, because the next 7 seasons are basically more of the same. ;-)

Suzanne, I might have to do a Downton Abbey post soon.

Thanks, Deanne!

Alexandra said...

So good to see you back, Elise!!!

IDK if you've seen them, but I absolutely adore Jeeves and Wooster with Hugh Laurie and Stephen Fry. Definitely my favorite TV show.

This show sounds really good...I'll have to give it a try!

Also...I'm sure you all ready knew this...but the first time I saw Julian Fellowes was in his role as the foppish Prince of Wales in The Scarlet Pimpernel. :-)

Anonymous said...

I've seen the first two series of Monarch of the Glen so far - I mostly concur with your thoughts - barring the fact that I obviously don't know how I'll view the later seasons.:) I too like Lexie and Archie - and I started to like the show better after all the triangle-drama was done with (I'm not overly fond of triangle-dramas as a rule anyway). I also agree that individual episodes can be extremely charming. Susan Hampshire and Richard Briers were wonderful. Oh, talking of Susan Hampshire, have you perchance seen The Pallisers - a series made in the '70s based on the novels by Anthony Trollope?

As for other series - you've seen Lark Rise of course? I've not yet forgiven the BBC for axing it...

My greatest favourite - in fact, to say that I'm passionately addicted to it is to understate the case (I can't go all that many days before I again start to feel the craving... )- is actually Babylon 5; here's (part of) the reason why:

For whatever reason I'm not being allowed to copy/paste, so I had to copy it for hand - hopefully it is correct, if not my apologies, and searching for In Memory of Babylon 5 on Youtube should do the trick.:)

Also, apologies for rattling on so! I just meant to basically mention Babylon 5, and that was all, honest.:)


Megan S. said...

Hey Elise! Just wanted you to know you've been tagged! Enjoy and be blessed!
Megan S.

S. Hastings said...

I loved watching MotG! I have seen all series or seasons. I enjoyed them greatly. I have to admit though I felt that series 7 ended abruptly, but that could be just me. It felt like they needed a double episode to finish the entire series but only had enough time for one. Still its one of my favorites and I tend to get from the Library often.

S. Hastings said...

I love MotG! I have watched all the series/seasons. I greatly enjoyed them. I wish the the finale episode was a double one though. It feels rushed to me for a series that like to draw things out a little. But other than that I really enjoyed them. My now six year wants to go to Glenboggle. Forgive me please if that is mis spelled. But that is what he calls it. I do skip a few episodes because I am uncomfortable with my children watching them for some reason or another. But I do not have a list or anything like that of them. For the most part though its family friendly. I too hope some day to go to Scottland! This series just makes me want to go all the more.

Ignacio said...

I had never heard of Monarch of the Glen here in Mexico City, until last May, when I was down with a terrible cold that kept me three days in bed. A friend gave me the complete show to keep me entertained and I became hooked from the first episode. Yesterday I finished watching it and now I am experiencing MOTG withdrawal symptons. I am having such strange longings, as if the characters were from my own family.

I loved the whole show. Yes, there were inconsistencies and it was sad to see Hector, Archie and Lexie leaving, who were key characters in the story. But all in all it was one of those shows that I know I will keep fondly in my memory. Why is it that some books, films and TV shows pull the heart's strings in such a way? Knowing there aren't any more MOTG episodes to watch saddens me. The heart is a strange thing, indeed.

Anonymous said...

I started watching Monarch of the Glen a few years ago when it was available on Amazon Prime. The first three seasons are golden. Season four was good, but season five was a little tortuous. I never got to finish the series, but constantly want to go back and relive some of the stories. The characters draw you in and make you wish you were a part of the family. It makes me want to move to Scotland too. I just wish it didn't cost so much to buy the whole set on DVD. Maybe will bring the series back again someday. In the meantime, I have my Highland dreams to keep me company. Great review!

Anonymous said...

I started watching this on Netflix over the weekend because a friend recommended it knowing I like things Scottish like scotch and tartan. I can't believe how good it is and I didn't know about this before. I find it much more enjoyable than Downton Abbey. I would rather spend a light evening with the MacDonalds and neighbors than the stuffy Abbey bunch (and I like Upstairs Downstairs). The characters in Monarch of the Glen do seem more real, and the MacDonalds like a family. I'm into the second season now and I don't want to anything but watch this, its breathtaking scenery, and sometimes laugh out loud script. I marvel at how they came up with such a good show.

Anonymous said...

Late last year we dropped cable. My family was not happy about it one bit. Even I shuttered at not seeing our favorite programs, but I had to tighten the financial belt in the home and cable had to go. So, I bought a Roku and signed up for netflix. That is where I found Monach of the Glen. I am so hooked on this show. I love all the characters and cried like a baby when Hector died. I love him so! I'm a little over half way through the series and agree with you about the writing. In any case I love Scotland (I'm from Texas) and love watching the shows just to see Scotland! The characters are fantastic in pulling you into thier world and lives. I love it and Also Downton Abbey is another favorite! I wouldn't have met these people & known about the shows if I hadn't dropped cable. Thanks for letting me share my thoughts.

Anonymous said...

My favorite character in this show is "Molly". I suspect that she is the one who kept it running so long.

The whole concept of a "laird" is foreign, in a way, to those of us in the United States. It is, perhaps, where we are headed yet again.

Kudos to all the great actors in this series. They have given us much to consider.