A Horseman Riding By
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Wounded Boer War veteran Paul Craddock (Nigel Havers, Chariots of Fire) arrives at Shallowford House in 1902 to establish himself as squire of Sorrell Valley. With the assistance of property manager John Rudd (Glyn Houston, The Mystery of Edwin Drood), Paul learns the ropes and tries his best to balance running a successful estate and being a compassionate landowner.
Paul is immediately captivated by two of the valley's women: Grace Lovell (Fiona Gaunt, War & Peace), a suffragette with a fierce temper, and sensitive Claire Derwent (Prunella Ransome, Far from the Madding Crowd). Following the outbreak of the First World War, Paul has to work even harder to manage Shallowford.
Set in the pastoral landscape of Devon and adapted from the novel by R.F. Delderfield (To Serve Them All My Days), this gripping miniseries pays tribute to the last days of traditional English country life through almost two decades of joyous occasions, devastating losses, and enduring love.
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STEWARDSHIP OF THE LANDED GENTRY AND A CHANGING WORLD. In this small Devon area valley, much of the old ways for the gentry are already failing and the new prospective squire is not a nobleman. He is "new money" trying to build something different for himself in a rural life he has yet to comprehend. As he comes to love the valley for which he becomes Squire, he combines his slightly more modern ideas with the well established ways of working class families who have cultivated that land for centuries. However, his desire to improve his tenants' lives does not sit well with noblemen in nearby estates. Adapted from the first novel in a series by R.F. Delderfield.
THE STORY (No spoilers): LT Paul Craddock is a wounded army officer returning from the second Boer War in South Africa. The year is 1902 and he has inherited a great deal of wealth through a scrap metal business his father possessed in South London (for which Paul had little interest). With this new wealth, he considers buying an estate in a valley in Devon that was once owned by a noble family called Lovell. Squire Lovell lost his land and wealth through poor financial management and now lives abroad as his family gives him just enough money to stay away. However, his genteel but progressive daughter Grace Lovell still haunts the estate from time to time. As Paul reviews the estate, he finds that he is being auditioned by the local tenants just as much as he considers the investment and interviews the estate manager. Though Paul comes from new money, he gravitates to the lives of those who live on the land and need a benevolent steward. There is also a conflict of love and position as Paul quickly befriends the elegant, yet wildly modernized, Grace Lovell who's union could help establish his sense of belongingness to his new position. Opposite her is Claire, a very beautiful and capable woman who is also the daughter of a tenant. Not exactly noble. As Paul goes about repairing the neglect of the properties, he must battle his affections and esteem for both women and decide which will suit the stewardship of his position best. He must also struggle against the other land owners who fear trouble from their own tenants if Paul succeeds too well in his modernization. Certainly some estates in real life must have gone through these challenges of meeting the 20th century. This show walks a strange tightrope of characters who had liberal ideas for the time, yet greatly desire to preserve an old way of life for rural inhabitants. Whether this tale is historical, realistic, or not, it is a wonderful saga of honor and altruism, an endeavor for the good of those we serve. As I intimated before, the core of characters are no longer noblemen and the classes are already mixing and improving themselves as the story progresses. It extends through the travails of WWI and deals with patriotism, duty, and sometimes complexities of war (it is not a war movie).
FINAL THOUGHTS: This is a great story by any standard. Just keep in mind this is 70's BBC drama so the pacing may be a little more methodic than some modern audiences are used to. For those used to 70's BBC, that's just part of the charm and the attention to character development is very welcome. If you like the genre, you should love this show!