Saturday, February 24, 2007

BBC misses golden opportunity with high class Lilies

OK, so it's not an adaptation, but I have to put in a good word for Lilies, the BBC period drama, shown 9.00pm Friday nights. It's the last episode next week sadly, to what has been an exhilarating series, with flawless writing and direction. Acting performances have been top-notch too. The screenwriter in this instance is Heidi Thomas, whose impeccable research into the period and place - early 1920s Liverpool, working-class Garston in particular - has truly brought this show to life. Everything, sets, locations, costumes, are seamlessly integrated, lost in context, which is how the best period drama should be.

Best of all, Lilies has never shied away from the brutal realities of life at the time, and has also sustained a warm, convivial sense throughout - in spite of the day to day hardships suffered. The plotlines have been strong and convincing, often shocking, often moving. Indeed, I have been moved from tears to laughter and back again, each episode.

The narrative focuses on the Moss household, comprising three sisters and a brother, all in their late teens to early twenties, who live in a two-up two-down with their widower father.

The most touching character for me is Iris (Catherine Tyldesley), the eldest of the three sisters, who has become a surrogate mother in her household. Iris has a whirlwind marriage which sours very quickly - the wedding night to be precise, when the truth of her husband's World War One wounds is brought to vivid and excrutiating light. It is heart-rending stuff. As the series has progressed she has become closer, spiritually and personally, to her rather dashing Catholic priest, Father Melia (Scot Williams). You could be forgiven for wishing that he could switch denomination and wed her - she'd make an ideal vicar's wife! But her ardent Catholicism is also what makes Iris so interesting, belying her compassion, and also, rather strangely perhaps, her ardent, sensual nature. When she explains in impassioned tones that she loves Jesus as 'a man', even while professing she wishes to be a nun, it's no small wonder that Father Melia is dubious about her true vocation.

Her two sisters Ruby (Kerrie Hayes) and May (Leanne Rowe) are also excellent characters. Ruby is feisty and outspoken while May has entertained ideas 'above her station' and is currently pregnant as the result of an affair with her former boss, from when she worked at his house as a parlourmaid. In truth, her pregnancy was the product of a twisted, insidious plan between the husband and wife - who are infertile - to gain a surrogate child. Except May fell for her baby's father and refuses to cowtow to their demands.

The sisters have a brother, Billy (Daniel Rigby). A gentle chap, mentally scarred from his experiences as a seaman during the war. During the course of the series we learnt of his secret homosexual love affair with a fellow seaman - now horribly deformed from battle, who sadly dies. Billy is a wonderful characterisation, in no small part because of his caustic, dry wit, which often debunks the female histrionics in his household.

Dadda (Brian McCardie) is one of the most fascinating characters of all. He is a man with a heart too big for his body, who is quick to temper, and quick to love. He is irrational, unreasonable, but also intelligent and occasionally fair. He remains a loveable character, in spite of his flaws.

Indeed, this is the most exciting aspect of this series. The quality of the writing is so masterful, each character is treated with an even hand, eliciting both our criticism and our fond empathy, all within a single moment.

It is a shame that the ratings for Lilies have been so poor. The BBC has boobed big time here, choosing to schedule Lilies on a Friday night rather than the Sunday night slot this show lends itself to, meaning it has had to face off Celebrity Big Brother on Channel 4 and Midsomer Murders on ITV. Unsurprisingly, ratings have tanked. And yet there has been no repeat option for viewers who would have been an interested audience. Of those who have watched the show, and judging too from comments posted on the BBC website, Lilies has garnered a strong and engaged fanbase.

Sadly I don't expect the BBC to commission a second series, which this show deserves, based on the ratings, which seems all the more unfair when one considers we pay our licence fees for all types of TV fare, not just programmes pandering to ratings which often succumb to a soapy, populist formula. Waterloo Road is a classic example. Series One was pithy, well-written, well-executed. Series Two has plunged into the realm of melodrama, over the top storylines and appalling scriptwork.

I sincerely hope a DVD version of Lilies is launched, to ensure more people get to see this wonderful series, which truly counts as the Best of British. The BBC has produced a top-class production and failed to promote it. This sort of defeatism is sure to undermine the corporation.


Anonymous said...

Wonderful series - really enjoyed watching 2 or even 3 of the episodes at a time...compulsive viewing. Unfortunately my SKY Plus Box "went on the blink" and had to be replaced! Result?? It wiped my whole I have missed some of the episodes. Hope that it will be repeated on BBC 3 or 4 OR that I can buy it on DVD...anyone know??

Anonymous said...

Lilies Series available on DVD to pre-order. BBC BOOKSHOP or Bookstore - you can buy online £17.99 thought some folk might want to know this.

Gallivant said...

The DVD is available on the 16th April and can be pre-ordered from Amazon, and HMV. Definitely worth it!

Gallivant said...

Oh yes, just to add, it is also available from the BBC Shop online ( and is cheaper!!