CHRISTOPHER STEVENS' four-star review of The Larkins

Sabrina the new Zeta? This bud may bloom into a TV Darling! CHRISTOPHER STEVENS’ four-star review of The Larkins

The Larkins 


Never mind the all-star cast. Every eye was on the relative unknown, as Sabrina Bartlett took on the mantle of Mariette, the original Darling Bud of May.

Mariette is the innocently saucy role that made Catherine Zeta-Jones a household name. For a couple of years in the early Nineties, 21-year-old La Zeta deposed Princess Di as the first-choice face for the front pages.

The love affairs of the lass from Swansea held the nation breathless, as she dated the likes of Mick Hucknall and David Essex. Catherine embodied that party-loving decade: ‘I drink, I swear, I like sex,’ she boasted.

That’s a lot to live up to, even before you remember she went on to marry Hollywood royalty in Michael Douglas. Can Sabrina match her?

She’s having a darn good swing at it, in The Larkins (ITV). When we first glimpsed her, sleeves rolled up in the Kentish sunshine, she was belting fenceposts with a long mallet. Half an hour later, she picked up a length of wood and smacked a randy fairground lad round the head with it, hard enough to ring a bell and win a prize.

Romance: Sabrina Bartlett as Mariette and Tok Stephen as Charley

This is a more muscular Mariette. She won’t take any nonsense. So far, her love life seems slow to take off, but what with a handsome newcomer in the village – played by Tok Stephen – and Pop’s matchmaking, chances are she won’t be single for long. 

Viewers with long memories will recall that, when H E Bates’s novels were first adapted for TV in 1991, Mariette owned up to being pregnant in the opening episode. ‘Well, whose is it?’ demanded David Jason as Pop Larkin. ‘She can’t make up her mind,’ replied Ma.

The latest incarnation of Mariette wouldn’t be so daffy as to get herself in the family way unless she meant to do it – in which case, the young man would be left in no doubt as to his responsibilities.

That’s partly because she’s older… a lot older. In the books, Mariette is 17. Sabrina Bartlett is 30. Though this is her first starring role, you might recognise her from Poldark, Bridgerton and a sheaf of other shows, including Game Of Thrones.

This might be a deliberate tactic on the part of the producers. If Mariette provokes another nationwide attack of palpitations, they want an actress who won’t feel overwhelmed.

Bradley and son make Xmas special a family affair 

The Larkins is a family drama in more ways than one – thanks to the casting of Bradley Walsh and his son Barney.

The Chase host, 61, plays Pop Larkin on the six-part ITV series while his 23-year-old son plays PC Harness. 

And it may still be mild in October, but exclusive pictures show them in thick winter gear filming the Christmas special in Kent last week.

The Larkins is a family drama in more ways than one – thanks to the casting of Bradley Walsh and his son Barney (who is pictured above as PC Harness in the show)

But their decision does undermine the story slightly. Mariette dreams of leaving home and setting off on an adventure, to France. Pop and Ma are horrified. Really, you can’t help feeling the girl’s old enough to look after herself.

There are other big shoes to fill. Few actors would fancy following David Jason, but Bradley Walsh has the confidence.

He doesn’t bother with much acting – Brad’s the same chirpy London geezer he was in Doctor Who, ever ready to shrug off a problem and whistle a happy tune. That’s all he needs to do, as lovable Pop. With a roll of banknotes in his trousers pocket and a beer bottle in his hand, he breezes through life. 

Village snobs, monied incomers and petty officials try to bring him down a couple of pegs. Pop floats out of reach, buoyed up by the wife and family that worship him. The trickier part to play is Ma Larkin. She’s the real heart of the family, running the farm with one hand and raising her brood with the other, and she has to do it without stealing Pop’s glory.

Too much deference and she’ll look like a wet blanket, too much gusto and she’ll become a dragon. Pam Ferris balanced it expertly, first time round, and now Joanna Scanlan seems to be copying her lead. Their two versions of Ma are almost identical. The couple are supported by a host of faces from old favourites, from Cold Feet to All Creatures Great And Small.

Peter Davison is the bad-tempered vicar, fag in his mouth as he flicks V-signs at parishioners.

As the source of most of the village gossip, he looks like an old thesp thoroughly enjoying himself. The ‘local VIP’, stage star Johnny Delamere, is played by Robert Bathurst, doing the posh airhead act that he can deliver in his sleep. Tony Gardner, always good value as a cad, is the village’s resident schemer, setting the taxman onto Pop in a bid to drive him out. His poisonous, stuck-up wife Norma (Selina Griffiths) loathes the Larkins even more ‘because they’re common’ – so you can be sure she’ll suffer for it too.

As if that’s not enough, Amelia Bullmore is Pop’s spinster neighbour, the smitten Miss Pilchester – yet another co-star who can wring every giggle from the script.

There’s even a little role for Brad’s son, Barney Walsh, as the village bobby – with a policeman’s helmet so big it covers his ears.

All that’s missing, in fact, is Pop’s catchphrase. He hasn’t said it yet.

And that’s apt, because The Larkins is great fun, it made a smashing start, but so far… it isn’t quite perfick.

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