In Review

Doctor Thorne: more thrilling than Downton Abbey?

Familiar themes feature in Julian Fellowes's adaptation of the Anthony Trollope classic

Julian Fellowes insists that his new period drama about love and class divide, Doctor Thorne, is not the new Downton Abbey, but this hasn't stopped critics drawing comparisons.

His adaptation of Anthony Trollope's 1858 novel, which stars Tom Hollander as the eponymous hero, Stefanie Martini as his niece, Mary, and Ian McShane as the sinister Sir Roger Scatcherd, began last night on ITV.

It shares many of the things that made Downton such a huge hit, says Kasia Delgado at the Radio Times. It is full of "the most beautiful country houses, castles and corsets, with some brilliant characters and actors at its centre".

However, unlike Fellowes's hit series, which once graced the same television spot, Doctor Thorne is a self-contained three-part drama rather than a sprawling six seasons.

"And let's thank the TV gods for that," says Delgado, "because Doctor Thorne's limited scope means it's sharper, more succinct and therefore more thrilling than Downton was, particularly in its later series."

There is also a "darkness at its core", she adds, with the central romance overshadowed by a murderous secret known only by Thorne.

Fellowes has certainly given Trollope the Downton treatment, says Jasper Rees at the Daily Telegraph. "Caught at a loose end after half the cast wanted out of Downton Abbey, he seems to have stuck his fingers in his ears, crossed out the name of Crawley and given their lines about pedigree and inheritances to the De Courceys and the Greshams."

Other critics agree that Doctor Thorne shares many of the hit series' themes – but also some of its foibles.

They were all here, says Viv Groskop at The Guardian, the "scheming aunts, rich heiresses, downtrodden husbands and country estates peeling around the edges", along with an "awful lot of explanatory detail and very little action or depth of emotion".

Meanwhile, Andrew Billen at The Times points out that it is hard to imagine Downton without Upstairs, Downstairs, or Upstairs, Downstairs without the novels of Trollope.

The snobbery, secrets and greed of Doctor Thorne were "familiar clay" in the hands of Fellowes, he says, yet there was "something uncomfortable about almost all of it".

While it was no doubt a faithful translation, with its "yawning swards and crenelated towers", it felt "more pastiche than Downton itself", he concludes.

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