The miniseries that started it all! In 1969, a internationally-acclaimed BBC show began airing on the fledgling public broadcasting network. The Forsyte Saga, in telling the remarkable story of a nouveau riche English family, introduced America to a new kind of TV. Millions of Americans devoted the next half year of their lives to following the frank treatment of all sins, foibles and peccadilloes of the Forsytes and their circle. The passing decades can never the erase the memory of their extraordinary evenings with the Forsytes: Kenneth More as Jo, the philosophical outsider; Eric Porter as Soames, the grasping man of property; Nyree Dawn Porter as Irene, "born to be loved and to love" and in later episodes, Susan Hampshire in an Emmy-winning performance as Fleur, Soame's 'restless' daughter. The series was so popular that Masterpiece Theatre was created to meet the new demand for great literary adaptations. With 150 characters, 2000 separate costumes and over 100 sets, this sprawling yet intimate saga continues to move, provoke and entrance viewers today.The Forsyte Saga
is often cited as the first television miniseries; it wasn't, but there's no question that it was a singular, powerful cultural phenomenon that deservedly got under the skin of European viewers in 1967 and changed the American TV landscape two years later. (Among other things, The Forsyte Saga
brought more viewers and extra clout to a then-struggling public television in the U.S., and gave rise to PBS's Masterpiece Theatre
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