Can it really be 30 years since The Darling Buds of May introduced Catherine Zeta-Jones to a grateful nation? Even now, some of you will break out in a hot sweat at the memory. It is one of those shows that exists in a nostalgic haze, doubly so because the series itself was a glorious evocation of 1950s England.
ITV has decided to resurrect it as The Larkins. Why? Probably because All Creatures Great and Small has been a hit for Channel 5, and this is their closest equivalent. You may wish they hadn’t bothered.
It looks lovely but falls short in many ways. First, there’s Bradley Walsh in the David Jason role as Pop Larkin. The show relies heavily on Walsh’s appeal, but he’s laying it on too thick; Joanna Scanlan is better as Ma. Then there’s Mariette. Sabrina Bartlett looks good in a pair of jodhpurs but any actress trying to follow CZJ is on a hiding to nothing. Plus, Bartlett is 30 – too old to be playing a girl still living with her parents. Pop and Ma’s desperation to keep her at home seems weird.
Mariette’s yearning for a new life in Paris is one of the plot lines here, along with a lovestruck young Larkin having her heart broken by a funfair attendant and Pop playing tricks on both a snooty local and a couple trying to buy a second home. None of these stories were very interesting, but nobody ever came to The Darling Buds of May for the drama. The lure of the series was its sheer scrumptiousness, and the feeling that we were being transported back to a time and place in which everything was right with the world.
Ah, yes. The time and place. Has there ever been such a racially diverse utopia as this tiny village in Kent? An Indian brigadier and headteacher, an Asian postman, a black shopkeeper, house buyer and man from the tax office – at points I thought everyone was going to break into song in the street and reveal this to be a Coca-Cola advert.
It can’t be colour-blind casting because all of the Larkins are white. Instead, we’re asked to believe that the locals don’t bat an eyelid at an Indian woman running a village school in 1958, when Britain didn’t get its first black headteacher until 1969.
There’s room for a little bit of #MeToo training too. “If you really like a girl, how do you approach her?” Ma asks her adolescent son. “Without scaring or embarrassing her,” he replies. Was that in the original HE Bates novel?
On top of all that, Walsh has seen fit to ditch Pop’s “perfick” catchphrase. Of all the decisions here, that one’s the most baffling.