My Uncle Silas is a Granada / Yorkshire Television co-production based on stories
by H.E. Bates, the same author whose pastoral tales of mid-20th century
English life launched Catherine Zeta Jones on the road to stardom in The
Darling Buds of May just over a decade ago. Here Albert Finney is ideally
cast as Bate's loveable scoundrel, the vibrant heart of a perfectly pitched
light comedy drama which has found a welcome home in the early Sunday evening
Debbie Wiseman is well cast as composer, the charming English lyricism she
brought to such projects as Something Here
and Stories of Oscar Wilde
running through this current score like a languid summer's picnic beneath a
willow tree. Anyone delighted by Richard Rodney Bennett's Enchanted April
or Rachel Portman's Emma will be immediately beguiled.
It takes little to guess that this is a very traditionally pastoral English
score, rich with strings, supported by piano, layered with delicately orchestrated
harp and flute melodies. There are several themes, including a particularly
elegant melody which appears in several tracks such as 'Ned Hunts Gooseberries',
a theme which has a plangent quality bearing a faint ghost of Howard Blake's
marvellous work on Ridley Scott's The Duellists. Elsewhere Silas theme is more upbeat and playful, 'the climax of 'Caught Poaching'
almost turning into a orchestral homage to a Yorkshire brass band tune in a
similar spirit to Christopher Gunning's Yorkshire Glory, his an epic
symphonic poem composed for Yorkshire television (recorded by The Royal Liverpool
Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Vernon Handley on Dale DL2 CD). Elsewhere
there is a Debussy-like gossamer grace to the flute writing, sample for example
'The Blue Feather', while 'Visiting Mrs Gadsby' becomes an impish jig. Throughout
a good nature spirit reigns in a disc which is perfect for a lazy sunny day.
Playful and dreamily romantic by turns, My Uncle Silas is, post-Vaughan
Williams, post-William Alwyn, a modern fantasy, an idyll in a century gone by
with all the rough edges removed. Escapist whimsy it may be, but it is gorgeous
as any Pre-Raphelite vision of an England that never was. As such it is highly
recommended to those who sometimes prefer beauty, charm and imagination over
grit, grim and 'relevance'. Whatever that may be.