Peter Mayle’s best-selling chronicle of his year in Provence is delightfully adapted for the small screen by the BBC, capturing much of the charm and humor of the book.
Over the next few months, A&E will air four sections of the work, with each two-hour section constituting a season of the year.
“The year began with lunch,” relates Peter Mayle (John Thaw) as he and his wife Annie (Lindsay Duncan) quit their jobs and embark on what they hope will be an idyllic year in a 200-year-old stone farmhouse in the Luberon Valley of Provence.
What follows instead is culture clash of the first order, as the Mayles struggle to adjust to fickle workman, frigid Mistral winds and neighbors who insist on corralling them for “just a little aperitif.”
The charms of the book, largely captured in this short-term series, are the peculiar and quirky ways of the inhabitants of southern France. These are not the impatient, street-wise Parisians or even the cagey hustlers of Marseilles. These are the clever and mysterious villagers of Provence, whose cuisine, culture and folkways are a confluence of the Italian and French people.
As elsewhere in France, food and hospitality are the themes of each day, and the Mayles rarely miss a chance to dine for hours, haggle with the local butcher , or listen to village gossip over a glass of pastis. The humor of the piece is in the Provencal approach to life, which is quite different than that of the English, and worlds away from Americans.
At the beginning, the Mayles are simultaneously charmed and infuriated by the frustrating customs of the locals. Before the year is out, however, they have been utterly seduced by their new way of life.
Writer Michael Sadler and director David Tucker stick closely to the book, resisting the temptation to “dramatize” or artificially inflate this small story. While the difficulty of operating in two languages occasionally presents problems as Mayle and his wife translate, in effect, for the audience, the production is smooth for the most part.
Thaw and Duncan effectively capture the spirit of the bewildered English couple, but the finest performances are by the French actors in various cameo roles, including Bernard Spiegel as Marcel the postman; Colombani, the maestro plumber; Jo Doumerg as Amedee, the neighboring farmer; and Riviere, the wily local who ceremoniously presents the Mayles with dead foxes.
Production, filmed entirely in Provence, reflects the simple beauty of the region.