The Darling Buds of May
by Jef Burnham
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The Darling Buds of May, based on the series of novels by H. E. Bates, follows the Larkins, a kooky family of tax-evaders who lead an idyllic country life in 1950’s Kent. The series stars Pam Ferris (Rosemary & Thyme), David Jason (A Touch of Frost), Philip Franks (Heartbeat), and an incredibly young Catherine Zeta-Jones (Chicago). The show’s 3 series (consisting of 9 two-part storylines and 2 holiday specials, for 20 episodes total) originally aired on the United Kingdom’s ITV between 1991 and 1993 and are being made available once again in North America from BFS Entertainment in this 5-DVD set.
The series opens on the Larkins being visited by tax inspector, Cedric Charlton (played by Franks and known throughout the rest of the series as Charley), as it seems the well-to-do Pop Larkin (Jason) has not once paid income tax. But for all his efforts, Charley is unable to get Pop to sit still long enough to fill out the required tax forms. After all, Charley instantly falls for their daughter Mariette (Zeta-Jones), allowing the Larkins to win him over with their quaint country existence and no small amount of booze. Charley and Mariette are subsequently married, children are reared, and the sort of adventures country folk might find themselves engaged in the 1950’s are had in abundance.
Frankly, I found the whole thing a little hard to swallow. Touted as “the most popular show in the history of British television” on the cover of the release, I had somehow hoped for more here. More what, I’m not entirely sure. More of an edge, I suppose, for one thing. After all, with exception of the glossed-over alcoholism, pregnancy out-of-wedlock, and tax evasion (hardly scandalous subjects themselves, even upon the series’ release in the 1990’s), the series is almost unbearably wholesome. As the series progresses, there are indeed storylines with a bit more grit to them, including one narrtive dealing with post-WWII anti-German sentiment, but even that feels somehow disgustingly wholesome in the end. Moreover, the Larkins are too kooky and Charley too dopey and gullible at the outset for us to really invest in the characters, although they admittedly grow on you over time, especially Pop. Even still, I found The Darling Buds of May to be an incredibly dull viewing experience overall, although I can definitely see how there is an audience for this.
The release itself, costing a fraction of BFS’s previous release of the series, offers a very fine image transfer that allows the super-sweet, waxy cinematography to really shine. Special features include interviews with Catherine Zeta-Jones and David Jason, a photo gallery, biographies, selected filmographies, and trivia.
Jef Burnham is a writer and educator living in Chicago, Illinois. While waging war on mankind from a glass booth in the parking lot of a grocery store, Jef managed to earn a degree in Film & Video from Columbia College Chicago, and is now the Editor-in-Chief of FilmMonthly.com.
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