Today the 26-episode production, based on several novels and short stories by John Galsworthy, is a more timeless enterprise than many of the protracted British TV dramas that have followed. While it would be wrong to consider The Forsyte Saga high art, it's certainly a mesmerizing and inspired mix of theater, sprawling Victorian narrative, thinking man's soap opera, and some finely tuned, 1960s black-and-white production values that (especially when shot outdoors) are strikingly handsome.
Above all, Forsyte is driven by its characters--perhaps to an extreme, though the two-generation storyline makes no apologies for creating compelling people whose capacity for short-sighted blundering, bursts of grace, and slow-brewing redemption make them recognizably human. Eric Porter towers over everything as Soames Forsyte, a humorless attorney whose guiding principles of measurable value cause great heartache but slowly evolve, leaving him a graying, good father, arts patron, and sympathetic repository of memory. From the cast of 150 or so, other standouts include Susan Hampshire as Soames's troubled daughter, Nyree Dawn Porter as the wife of two very different Forsyte men, and Kenneth More as the family's artistic black sheep. --Tom Keogh
Soames is villified and reproached by everyone because he is a tight fisted, hard, unyielding man who judges everything by its monetary value. He wants a wife in order to get for himself an heir to his considerable property. Love is not part of the equation for Soames. An obedient, thrifty, proper woman will serve him well. Unfortunatley for him, he falls in love with the beautiful Irene Herron, well played, for the most part, by Nyree Dawn Porter. Irene is a young pianist who needs to find a home for herself. She does not love Soames and tells him so, but this does not matter to Soames. He will acquire her as he does a beautiful painting and hope that in time she will at least develop some affection for him.
At first Irene tolerates Soames, but soon she comes to despise him because his soul is a mercantile product housed in a cash box for a body. Soames finds it unbelievable that his new wife does not value security and wealth. This is bad, but worse comes when she falls in love with the architect Soames commissions to build a house for her. The architect dies in a tragic accident and Irene leaves Soames to live on her own, if not in poverty, in seriously straightened circumstances.
This conflict of Soames and Irene is at the heart of the entire series. All of the Forsyte clan, and there are many members of this Victorian family, are touched in some way or another by the marriage and later divorce of Soames and Irene. The greatness of this series is that we are able to follow the ongoing dispute as both Soames and Irene grow old. Irene remains true to her artistic vision of herself, but Soames mellows somewhat because of his genuine love for his daughter. In the end we come to have some modest respect and understanding for the old man. He is as much a 21st Century American Man of Property as a Victorian gentleman.
For those viewers who fall in love with this series, I can recommend even more highly the books on which they are based by John Galsworthy. The Man of Property starts the series of well written, wonderfully entertaining novels. The books and DVDs of the Forsyte Saga are an excellent addition to any home library.
While Soames and Irene (pronounced "Irenee") are the main characters, the saga follows three generations of the Forsyte family, a wealthy non-aristocratic family in London, beginning in the latter half of the 19th century through World War I. Many of the other characters are also unforgettable, particularly Kenneth Moore as Jo Forsyte and Susan Hampshire as Soames' daughter Fleur.
It is a masterful production of Galsworthy's portrait of the changing social mores in England's wealthy upper class over a 50-or-so-year period. The costumes, staging and casting are flawless.
Be sure to watch the special features including interviews behind the scenes and especially "The Forsyte Phenomenon". When this series was originally aired in the UK in 1967, it took the country by storm. These special features give you a real feel for what it was like by way of original footage of interviews with the "average man in the street" and talk shows. I never saw the original series back then, but I read Galsworthy's books about five years ago and have been looking for the videos/DVDs ever since. It's been worth the wait!
While I love the 2002 production (and am one of those who admired Gina McKee as Irene) I... Read more