Tuesday, 17 April 2018

Dick Turpin, Season 1 (1979)

By all indications the real life Dick Turpin was a pretty typical ruffian, horse thief and highwayman of his era (the early to mid 1700s), but the English-speaking peoples seem to have long had a tradition of romanticising outlaws, particularly in times where the authorities were not popular.  Turpin was active in the early years of the "foreign" House of Hanover, which faced major rebellions in both 1715 and 1745, which likely didn't hurt his ascension to become something of a Robin Hood style figure in British folklore.

Turpin was executed in 1739, but this light family-friendly action/drama takes the premise that the man hung that day was an impostor, and the 'real' Turpin was still at large, waging a one-man war of retribution against the corrupt and wealthy officials who had impoverished his family.  Said officials are led here by Sir John Glutton.  A subtle show, this is not.

In the course of the thirteen episodes presented in the first series of the show, we will tick off a lot of the common tropes of such lightweight historical drama.  There's the foppish dandy who turns out to be a cunning highwayman; the rival robber who turns out to be a beautiful woman; the bad guys using an impostor to blacken Turpin's name, and so on.

Familiar though it is, it could all work well enough if delivered with verve, but I don't think Dick Turpin quite manages to stand and deliver on that front.  Leading actor Richard O'Sullivan certainly has the required roguish charm, but the production values are ... well, it's a British show from 1979, with all that entails.  A bigger weakness though, is that there is not really any sense of menace from the villains.  Every time he encounters them, Turpin is easily triumphant.  I guess that suits the light tone the show is obviously going for, but it doesn't exactly make for thrilling adventures when then bad guys are portrayed as so obviously outclassed all the time.

Also hurting the show is the ordering of episodes on these DVDs, which is different to those of the original airing order, and seems quite nonsensical - things that happen in one episode on the discs are blithely ignored in the next because the second episode was intended to be viewed before the first.

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