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Marathon T.V. Viewing... British Programs

Updated on June 4, 2016

Across the Pond

In a previous article I focused on American television serials. In this discussion I cross the Atlantic and examine British programs.

The difference between the two is as vast as that between coffee and tea.

General Observance

Hopefully, you are familiar with both American and English programmes. If you are not, please take a moment to watch at least one episode of an American and one of a British serial so that you will have reference points.

Basically, British programs are novels turned into visual media. American are visual events with the addition of dialogue.

As a novel begins with many words to set the scene, to develope the characters, to unfold the plot in a slow and measured pace, so too, the English drama.

American programs are action and movement where words are stuffed into mouths to define and explain.

British dramas move slowly. One sees the preparation. It is not all 'get to the conclusion'. How things are done is more important than that they were done.


Placed in today's England is Sherlock Holmes. Those who are familiar with the character and story will find how artfully the series has been done.

The same characters are there with modern additions, One finds it quite clever to see how little things would be translated.

When presented with a poser, the old Sherlock called it a 'three pipe problem'. The modern Sherlock calls it a 'three patch' and displays three of those nicotine patches on his arm.

The stories are engrossing and time is taken to develope them. This is not the 42 minute 'hour' of American presentations but often nearly ninety minutes of program. The dialogue is worth hearing, clever and informative.

Interestingly, where in the original stories by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Dr. Watson was recently returned from Afghanistan, in the modern version, he was also just returned from Afghanistan, adding that clever connection between then and now.

It is a charming series with drama, humour and that kind of cleverness that makes one tip their hate to the creators and writers for straying just far enough from 'then' to be 'now' but not so far as to turn it into something different.

Downton Abbey

This is the perfect example of a novel turned into a visual experience. It moves slowly and carefully, giving the details and dialogue.

Downton Abbey is the Great House where the Crawley Family lives upstairs and an army of servants downstairs.

It covers the time from the Sinking of the Titanic until New Years Day 1925.

There are many historic 'throwaways' from the Teapot Dome Scandle, to the introduction of telephones into homes.

The change in what was British society at the start of the show, through the war, until the last episode are carefully drawn.

Although the central characters are fictitious there is enough touching of real life to make them breathe. They are in some ways examples of their various stations in life, and in others, unique individuals.

A Bit of a Hybrid

Luther is a detective drama. An English detective drama which betrays a familiarity with American productions.

This is a fast moving program, not as fast as CSI or Hawaii 50, and not as inarticulate. This is because instead of a 42 minute hour, English hours are 50+ minutes long. Those extra minutes allow the characters to breathe.

Luther is not based on anyone, he's an original. Even from the first episode he has a wealth of personality. You meet him, and before those 50+ minutes are up, know him.

The Talk, The Walk

In American dramas, the dialogue is very unimportant. Characters toss words, they don't talk to each other. They don't communicate by looks and smiles. As each actor in an American show knows what the other is going to say, the answers follow quickly.

In British dramas, dialogue is very important. Characters make statements, intent on communicating with each other. The actors behave as if they are unsure of what the other will say, so there are pauses, reflections, a need to define and understand.

In American dramas, kissing is a face squashing somewhat pornographic hunger displayed by the characters.

In British dramas, kissing is mouth closed and important, and no untoward passion is displayed.

In American dramas characters say what moves the plot. In British, the dialogue developes the characters.


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