Serendipitously, Anna Maxwell Martin (Bleak House) was nominated for a BAFTA award for her starring role in South Riding this week – the very same week in which the three part miniseries premieres on PBS. Based on the novel by Winifred Holtby, and adapated by none other than Andrew Davies (Little Dorrit, Pride and Prejudice), South Riding tells the story of a small Yorkshire town struggling to survive the changing times. David Morrissey (Sense and Sensibility) and Penelope Wilton (Downton Abbey) also star.
A lively new headmistress brings progressive ideas to a conservative girls’ school in Depression-era Yorkshire, sparking conflict — and a powerful attraction — with a stern, brooding landowner rooted in a troubled past. With its pounding surf and grinding poverty, South Riding presents a hardscrabble community still crippled from World War I, and its transformation, when infused with hope, through modernization, poetry, and even love.
When Sarah Burton returns to her hometown as headmistress she is full of ambition, determined to create a great school and to inspire her girls to take all they can from life. But in the aftermath of the First World War, the country is in depression and ideals are hard won. Lydia Holly, the scholarship girl from the shacks, is the most brilliant student Sarah has ever taught, but when her mother’s health fails, her education must be sacrificed – there is nobody else to care for the children. Robert Carne of Maythorpe Hall stands for everything Sarah despises: his family has farmed the South Riding for generations, their position uncontested. Yet Sarah cannot help being drawn to this proud, haunted and almost ruined man. South Riding is a rich, panoramic novel, bringing vividly to life a rural community on the brink of change.