Originally shown as 26 hour-long episodes, this box set of 8 volumes spans the fortunes of the Forsytes, a merchant family, from 1870 through to the 1920s. The story begins in 1879 and Winifred Forsyte is to marry man of means Monty Dartie, while Jo Forsyte is having a relationship with Helene, the Austrian governess of his daughter. When Jo's wife dies he marries his mistress, only to be cut off by the family. Episodes in chronological order are: 'A Family Festival'; 'A Family Scandal'; 'The Pursuit of Happiness'; 'Dinner at Swithin's'; 'A Man of Property'; 'Decisions'; 'Into the Dark'; 'Indian Summer of a Forsyte'; 'In Chancery'; 'The Challenge'; 'In the Web'; 'Birth of a Forsyte'; 'Encounter'; 'Conflict'; 'To Let'; 'A Family Wedding'; 'The White Monkey'; 'Afternoon of a Dryad'; 'No Retreat'; 'A Silent Wooing'; 'Action for Libel'; 'The Silver Spoon'; 'Strike'; 'Afternoon at Ascot'; 'Portrait of Fleur'; and finally 'Swan Song'.
The Forsyte Saga
is often cited as the first television miniseries; it wasn't, but there is no question that it was a singular, powerful cultural phenomenon that deservedly got under the skin of viewers in 1967. Today the 26-episode production, based on several novels and short stories by John Galsworthy, seems like a more timeless enterprise than many of the protracted TV dramas that have followed. While it would be wrong to consider The Forsyte Saga
high art, it is certainly a mesmerising and inspired mix of theatre, 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 story line makes no apologies for creating compelling people whose capacity for short-sighted blundering, bursts of grace and slow-brewing redemption make them recognisably human. Eric Porter towers over everything as Soames Forsyte, a humourless attorney whose guiding principles of measurable value cause great heartache but slowly evolve, leaving him a greying, 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