Adaptation Review: The Forsyte Saga (2003-2004)

In late-1800s London the expansive Forsyte family relishes their position as “new money” in society. Their luxurious lives face upheaval amid the trials and triumphs of several generations. The story of cousins Soames and Jolyon Forsyte and the woman who challenges their passions - the mysterious, unpredictable Irene Heron - is told in the three novels and two interludes that make up John Galsworthy’s The Forsyte Saga. One of the most acclaimed miniseries to air on the treasured PBS program Masterpiece Theater, the complete and unedited collection of The Forsyte Saga has been released this month on DVD by Acorn Media for the first time in the United States. The Forsyte Saga Collection combines both series of the adaptations: the original seven-hour miniseries, which premiered in the States in 2003, and its four-hour sequel from 2004. The miniseries stars Damian Lewis in a bravura performance as the indomitable Soames Forsyte, Gina McKee as the object of his obsession, and Rupert Graves as the most humble and down-to-earth member of the Forsyte family, Jolyon.

The first series depicts the novels The Man of Property (1906) and In Chancery (1920) as well as the interlude Indian Summer of a Forsyte (1918). It tells the story of Jolyon’s departure from his family’s brooding, materialistic ways when he leaves his wife and daughter, forfeiting his inheritance, to spend his life with a governess he loves. Proving himself to be of a different breed than the rest of his family, Jolyon supports his new family as a painter. Simultaneously, his cousin Soames leads the Forsyte family – including the elders, and the many cousins – through the upper echelons of society as a well-established solicitor. While on holiday Soames meets and becomes entranced by the impoverished and beautiful Irene Heron. Free-spirited and bold, Irene cannot love Soames for his possessive nature and haughty aspirations. What results is one woman’s pursuit of contentment and a sense of independence while caught in the unrelenting grasp of a man who will never stop chasing his desires. It’s an epic story, with a large and vibrant cast of characters intertwining to fill the series with additional plot points. Several threads of the story which were merely mentioned in the novels and yet crucial to the story’s development are depicted strongly in The Forsyte Saga, offering a truly substantial retelling of Galsworthy’s books. The performances by many supporting characters are fantastic, including Gillian Kearney as Jolyon’s first daughter, June, and Ioan Gruffudd as June’s fiancé, Phillip Bosinney.

The second series depicts the events in Galworthy’s final novel of the Forsyte collection, To Let. The majority of the story takes place eleven years after the events of the first series. It follows the children of Soames and Jolyon, who chance to meet and fall in love despite their family’s attempts to separate them. While the series introduces new characters and a new story, a tale of two young lovers and their determination to be together, it also serves as a uniquely styled companion piece to the first series. Soames and Jolyon’s embittered rivalry is brought to new stages and the tangible drama of the first series reignites as their feud engulfs yet another generation in the Forsyte family. Many of the original cast members reprise their roles, including Lewis, McKee, Graves and Kerney, as well as Amanda Root, Ben Miles, and Alistair Petrie. The second series, while shorter and perhaps a bit less ominous than its predecessor, offers viewers a much-anticipated glimpse at what becomes of the powerful Forsyte clan.

Of the miniseries on a whole, I was vastly impressed. To undertake a series of novels like The Forsyte Saga and present them in clear, creative, and brilliantly absorbing drama is a huge feat. Damian Lewis is spellbinding in his depiction of Soames Forsyte’s maddening obsession; right down to the slightest of facial twitches, he portrays every ounce of the character’s depth. The costuming, of course, is stunning and the filming locations are exquisite. Geoffrey Burgon’s beautiful score takes the series to an even higher level. Overall, it was a thrilling miniseries with pulsating drama and a multitude of brilliant performances, offering a relentlessly engaging journey into the world of the Forsyte family.

Presented in its original, unedited entirety as seen in the UK, the collection includes more than twenty minutes of additional footage as well as a twenty-minute making-of featurette for both series, photo galleries, a booklist and biography of author John Galsworthy, and more. For fans of sweeping historical dramas and luxuriously-paced literary adaptations, The Forsyte Saga Collection is a must-have in your DVD library.

Title: The Forsyte Saga Collection Based on: The Forsyte Saga by John Galsworthy (1867 - 1933) Genre: Period drama, historical romance, television miniseries Distributor: Acorn Media Format: DVD Release date: August 14, 2012 Provided by: Acorn Media (C/O) Buy the DVD: Acorn Media | Amazon | Barnes & Noble

Disclosure: I was provided with a copy of this adaptation from the distributor for the purpose of review.