Normally, when you put forth the time and effort to revisit the 70’s and watch what you remember as being brilliant television, chances are, you come away a bit disappointed. Such is not the case with the just released on DVD version of the 70’s classic, The Norman Conquests, from the PBS Great Performances series. This is still brilliant television and something that any British comedy fan should add to their DVD library.
Based on the Alan Ayckbourn trilogy of plays, the Emmy nominated series starred Richard Briers (The Good Life, Ever Decreasing Circles) and Penelope Keith (The Good Life, To The Manor Born), along with Tom Conti, Penelope Wilton and Fiona Walker. Interestingly, when we interviewed both Richard Briers and Penelope Keith recently for the Behind the Britcom special currently airing on PBS stations nationwide, both mentioned that comedy writers, Bob Larbey and John Esmonde had seen The Norman Conquests with Richard and Penelope along with Felicity Kendal and that all but immediately made their casting decisions easy for their upcoming new British comedy series, The Good Life.
After watching, your first and foremost thought is to be thankful that this is not your family. It’s nothing short of a family weekend in the beautiful English countryside gone horribly wrong. There are three plays (obviously, since it’s a trilogy) all set in the same house, but in different parts during a, painstakingly long, three-day weekend. Table Manners is set in the dining room; Living Together takes place in the living room; and Round and Round the Garden is set outside, where the same set of events are examined from these three different vantage points.
If you’re not familiar with the concept, the title says it all — The Norman Conquests. Norman plans a rendezvous with sister-in-law Annie. When that doesn’t work, he sets his sights on sister-in-law Sarah (Penelope Keith) and wife, Ruth. Enter Sarah’s husband, Reg (Richard Briers), and Tom, the veterinarian who lives next door…well, you get the idea.
True to Alan Ayckbourn form, this is great theatre with countless classic one-liners that translates extremely well to brilliant television that has stood the test of time over the last 40 years. Finally, it has been digitally remastered giving it that great 70’s live television feel for not only fans who saw when originally broadcast but for new audiences to also enjoy.