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Perhaps the required caveat for this program, for those who need it, is
that it is not action, special effects, or, for the most part,
reality-based. (Of course "reality" and "accuracy" are not the point of
most television and cinema, so this isn't really saying much.)
That in mind, Monarch of the Glen has an original premise, lightly portraying the transition of a once aristocratic, landed-gentry family into modern times, replete with the struggle to keep a majestic, ancient and beautiful castle afloat and functioning in a modern, capitalist world.
The series opens with the intersecting of two generations--the current "laird" of the castle, patriarch Hector MacDonald, and his wife, Molly, who both embody the last generation to have enjoyed a life of noble leisure and privilege, and their son and laird-to-be, Archie. While technically also privileged, the young Archie will have to rely on imagination, skill and a lot of sweat equity to sustain what is essentially now a white elephant: the sprawling and extraordinarily picturesque estate of Glenbogle, whose far-reaching land still supports various tenants with lives and minds of their own.
As the series' seasons pass, the plot thickens, some characters go and some remain, and Glenbogle inches gracefully into the 21st Century, even as as the castle remains a bit frayed around the edges.
(The sixth season recently ended, with the seventh commencing sometime in Fall 2005.)
While this British "we must save the farm" angle is the background narrative, Monarch of the Glen's primary investment is in exploring the personal exploits of its charming and idiosyncratic characters: the MacDonald family and their various estate "employees" and caretakers, who are essentially extended family. Romance, intrigue, interpersonal conflict, self-revelation, and the bonds of family and friends are the essence of the show, played out in that inimitably understated, witty and appealing BBC way (which can be particularly alluring for viewers a little shell-shocked by regular, American TV).
I find the able cast mostly quite believable in their respective parts, not to mention appealing and likable--particularly the roles of Archie, Lexie, Golly, Molly and Paul. An hour in their company is like a wonderful, genteel (but far from stuffy), little reverie, which keeps you wondering what's up for them next.
For romantics and Brit-o-philes.
Monarch of the Glen is a quiet kind of comedy, with a good helping of drama, a bit of sly, smirky humor and a pinch of sentimentality. It doesn't seem to be widely accepted, probably because there is no sex or violence. Sheesh, I can't even remember hearing a four letter word. The characters are real, they are funny and the show is engaging. One of the nice things about this show is that everyone gets a chance to shine - not just the young attractive leads. Golly, middle-aged and gray, is actually portrayed as cool! (Gasp!) Molly, the mother, is viewed as attractive - she has a life beyond being the mother. Even the "servant types" have their bits. It's not rock solid, Monarch does get a little "soap opera-y" every now and then, what with a missing daughter or brother turning up, but it's a far better thing to watch than most of the rubbish on the tube today.
One of the latest in a long line of heartwarming, wholesome family series which the BBC has been making for 50 years. In the 1990's they largely surrendered this Sunday night territory to commercial rivals ITV (Heartbeat, Where the Heart Is.. etc) but have recently made a comeback with this show and 'Born and Bred'. Like many of its predecessors it boasts stunning scenery and well-acted character turns. To my mind its main weakness is its very small regular cast, basically half a dozen principals and a lack of 'occasional' characters who can appear from time to time. The number of dramatic permutations among the regulars is therefore very small and most of the storylines rely on the old 'Bonanza' standby of mysterious strangers turning up unannounced each week to inspect the castle kitchens and the like. This does become very repetitive after a while and is more noticeable than in shows that have more regular and recurring characters. The regular cast has grown even smaller in the third series with the demise of the old laird played by Richard Briers (The BBC stalwart got fed up of the long shooting schedules and was blown up at the end of series 2). As a result the third series has seen an increasing role for lovable old buffer Lord Kilwillie, played by Julian Fellowes. In another guise Fellowes was the screen writer for the movie 'Gosford Park.'
I've always really enjoyed this series. However, for a show that extols
the virtues of tradition, stability and family, it has possibly the
highest casualty rates among its cast of any television series in
history. In just five years, only one member of the original ensemble
cast remained with the show. Together with all the supporting
characters who were brought in for a few episodes before moving on, the
impression was that there was a stampede to get away from the crumbling
Highlands estate of Glenbogel. Recently BBC America has been racing
through the series on a five-day-a-week schedule, exhausting the entire
life of the show in only three or four months. With this accelerated
viewing, you can see the series morph before your eyes. It remained
entertaining throughout, but the organic balance of the original
The main problem is that although the show started with a well-balanced cast, the only departing cast member who was replaced with a dramatically similar character was Archie (Alastair MacKenzie), whose half-brother Paul (Lloyd Owen) stepped seamlessly into his shoes. Beyond this, the original equilibrium was quickly thrown off-kilter. The show particularly felt the loss of Archie's father (Richard Briers), who provided most of the original whimsical comedy. After that the show became a succession of stories of unrequited love and hurt feelings with little or no leavening for several seasons. Finally in the last year or two the whimsy returned in the person of Donald, the family's black sheep brother (Tom Baker) and Ewan, a lovable young scamp who apparently hailed from the Scottish branch of the Bowery Boys clan (Martin Compston). These two and their wacky schemes together finally brought the levity of the original back to the series.
Through all its iterations the show remained warm and entertaining. What it could have used was more stability.
An absolutely "must see" program. Warm, funny, and romantic, this is a show that renews one's faith in the human condition. You soon care about the characters and want them succeed personally and professionally. With all the gratuitous violence and sex rampant throughout television today it's encouraging to see a program the whole family can enjoy.
I am now home all day with my toddler and I told myself I would never
descend to watching soap operas. However, I became totally hooked on
this show when BBC America began running it at 5:00 pm. It has romance,
hunks to look at (as well as gorgeous natural scenery) and also
melodrama...but it is certainly many cuts above a "soap". The quirky
characters are so much fun to watch. This show has some of the feel of
Northern Exposure...but, as an Anglophile, I feel it is even more
I really came to look forward to unwinding with this show near the end of each busy afternoon. More please!
I love this show. Compared to all of the trash that's on TV right now, this one is a breath of fresh air. The scenery is absolutely gorgeous. I love it when they show the beautiful views of the loch. This is definitely a place I'd love to live. I think Hector and Killwillie are hilarious together and Molly is simply delightful. Lexie is a real spitfire and Duncan is so sweet and innocent. Golly is quite a man and I adore Archie and can't wait to watch his weekly adventures. I plan on buying this DVD ASAP because I will watch it over and over. Monarch of the Glen is a great series that I hope will not end anytime soon. Keep the refreshing characters coming and the breathtaking scenery!!!!!!
I watched this when it was first screened in early 2000 and eagerly await
the new series starting in January 2001. It was a thoroughly engaging
that was fun to watch.
The Scottish castle and backdrop make a pleasant setting and the characters are delightful. I hope it will continue for more series and the excellent cast will re-appear. The story in a way is incidental. There is a place for this sort of drama which is neither heavy nor shallow. It just makes you feel good - quality for a popular audience.
If you have a good script, a good cast and a committed production team, then drama could always be like this. I wish it was. Who needs soaps when you can have the real thing. More please!
Yes, it may be a bit of fey highland fluff, but it has a quirky charm
(a bit reminiscent of a Scottish "Northern Exposure") and would be
worth watching for the lush green scenery and glittering loch alone if
But, for connoisseurs of British TV, actors, and cult TV in general, the 6th series, just made available in the U.S. on DVD, is especially interesting because of the presence of at least 4 major cult figures of British television.
Beginning with the continuing, charming presence of regular "Molly" played by the great Susan Hampshire whose resume reads like a history of the best of British TV. From her appearances in things like "Danger Man" (aka "Secret Agent") to classics such as the original black and white "Forsyte Saga," "The First Churchills," "The Pallisers," etc. etc. We also are entertained with the newly recurring character of Hector's wastrel brother Donald McDonald played by the highly amusing Tom Baker (still my favorite Dr. Who) and the delicious Anthony Head (Giles from "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" and more recently the Prime Minister in those hilarious "Little Britain" sketches.)
And, best of all, for "Bad Girls" fans (at least those brilliant first 3 seasons which made British TV history thanks, largely, to this actress' landmark performance) we are further graced with the authentically Scottish, luscious Simone Lahbib (who, sadly/happily, was forced to leave the show when she found she was pregnant in real life.) She is a delight in her outdoorsy togs and her scenes with the farm animals. I'd love to see her do more comedy, though she excels as a dramatic actress. She and Tony Head, especially, have a very interesting working relationship/chemistry as well-matched actors here in their unfortunately too few scenes together. Very subtexty, less-is-more, breezy, low-key, naturalistic with a wry little twist and spin on the delivery. Too bad she couldn't have stayed longer, as they were just beginning to develop her character and the rivalry between Paul and Chester for Isobel's affections. I want to live on Isobel's farm, anyone know just where it's located?
Also...another Monarch Trivia Alert: in an earlier season there was a major degrees-of-separation Indy Jones thing happening with the presence in the same series of Paul Freeman from "Raiders of the Lost Ark," plus that other "Raiders" villain Ronald Lacey's daughter, and the new laird, Lloyd Owen is Indy's dad from TV's "The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles."
I recently discovered this series through Netflix, and I have found it
completely enjoyable. The writing is very consistently good, the
characters appealing (their quirks and foibles make them even more so),
and the scenery of the Scottish highlands is just lovely.
The show takes you inside of a charming world that the characters inhabit. You see them wrestling with and resolving conflicts with others and among themselves in ways that are always sweet in the end, but never sickly sweet or trite. Not all of them are likable. Hector, the father, will drive you crazy, but then he comes through on important points, like loyalty and a devotion to tradition. Archie seems indecisive, but he is also very loving and loyal. And Lexie is a great character who is driven by a sense of justice, and always wanting to do the right thing. Molly and Golly are steadfast, loving - one almost too kind, and the other very stern. And Duncan too is both funny and very true, very devoted to his friends.
The show also achieves the near impossible, managing to communicate a lot of sexual tension without ever becoming overly explicit - well done. It's a bit like Northern Exposure or Gilmore Girls in its appeal, but in my opinion it is much better than both of those.
I could pick at it a bit and say where it might have gone wrong. But I don't want to, because I just don't think television gets much better than this. Highly, highly recommended for people who like excellent writing that combines drama with humor, shows people usually finding their way back to do the decent thing, and treats characters and viewers with dignity.
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