BBC’s 1982 Barchester Chronicles, episodes 1-3

The Barchester Chronicles sees Rickman returning to familiar territory–a BBC miniseries adaptation of a classic novel. This time, though, he has a much bigger role in the production.

This miniseries premiered a couple of months after his very brief appearance in Smiley’s People and is an adaptation of the first 2 novels in Anthony Trollope’s six book Barsetshire series–The Warden and Barchester Towers. I’ve not actually read the second book in the series, but I thoroughly enjoyed The Warden when I read it for a class a couple of years ago. I personally think Trollope is a much better, more interesting 19th century British writer than Charles Dickens, who is arguably more famous–Trollope’s characters are more nuanced and his stories are emotionally resonant without relying on melodrama. Plus, they are witty as can be. The first two episodes of this miniseries are an adaptation of The Warden while the remaining five are adaptations of Barchester Towers. 

Sadly, the Rickman doesn’t show up until the third episode for this reason because his character isn’t present in the first book. Since I’m writing the blog posts as part of the Alan Rickman Memorial Festival, I’m going to briefly recap the goings-on in the first two episodes before spending more time on the third one.

My impression of the series–backed up by a lot of other reviews–is that the first two episodes are interesting, entertaining period drama comedy about likable characters, but the rest of the series, after Rickman and his posse show up, are the best part of the show. I would agree with that sentiment even if I wasn’t blogging this as part of a Rickman tribute. Nonetheless, you need to watch the first two episodes to know what’s going on, and they are good.

Episodes 1-2:

Very quick summary of the first 2 episodes-Mr. Harding is a clergyman and the much beloved warden of the local hospital for old, retired pensioners who have nowhere else to go. He is an elderly widower, with two daughters.


“My name is Mr. Harding. I play the cello when I’m nervous, even when my cello isn’t with me.”

One is married to the local archdeacon, Dr. Grantly, who pitches spectacular shit fits and whose dad, the bishop, is one of Harding’s closest friends.

Mrs. Grantly

Mr. Harding’s eldest daughter, Mrs. Grantly

sedated Grantly

Her better half, Mr. Grantly. This is him under apparent sedation.

normal Grantly

This is him in his natural state.

His other daughter Eleanor still lives at home but is in love with John Bold, a young, crusading doctor who demands a legal inquiry into the funding of the hospital Harding takes care of.

Eleanor and dad

Eleanor and dad.


Mr. Bold. Feeling a little less than bold right now.

He contends the pensioners are being cheated, though he also admits it probably isn’t Harding’s fault. Plot complications and hurt feelings ensue! By the end, John and Eleanor are an item, and Harding has agreed to step down.

I particularly enjoyed Mr. Harding. I’ve always liked Donald Pleasance, and he does a great job in this role as the affable, kindly Harding. I also loved any scene with Mr. Grantly, the unhinged archdeacon, and though his presence is sadly limited, the scheming mutton-chopped attorney Bold initially consults, Mr. Finney, is also pretty awesome.

Mr. Finney

Mr. Finney, sporting a truly awe-inspiring set of muttonchops.


Next page: beginning of “Episode 3”


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