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4.4 out of 5 stars
4.4 out of 5 stars
The Good Companions - The Complete Series [DVD] [1980]
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on 2 October 2011
This very welcome release gives fans of J B Priestley's 1929 novel "The Good Companions" the first chance for thirty years to see Yorkshire Television's nine part adaptation for television which was made in 1980 and broadcast in 1981. As with almost all TV dramas dating from those times which are now coming out on DVD we have to concede that the definition of the image is by contemporary standards rather fuzzy and dull but to complain about that is really about as helpful as complaining about rain in Manchester - it goes with the territory,

This series differs from many classic book adaptations in that it is in effect a TV musical. The drama is interspersed with songs. They were written specially for this series by the composer David Fanshawe. Mr Fanshawe, who sadly died last year, is probably best known for his insatiable curiosity about the musical cultures of far flung places in the world and for incorporating them into a truly eclectic inclusive style of composition. Here his songs are derived from what to this listener at least seems a profound knowledge and understanding of the style of musical comedy songs in the first half of the 20th century. Some of the songs are a little anachronistic in that they are not in the style of musical comedy songs of the 1920s. There are a few which seem to draw fromstyles of the 1940s and 1950s. It seems to me that you could not dramatise the Good Companions without including musical performance on stage and the decision to extend the musical contribution to the dramatic action itself as happens here (a la Dennis Potter) seems a justified one. I will concede that not all the songs come up to the required standard but some do.

The story is about three innocents abroad. A middle aged Yorkshire working class carpenter Jess Oakroyd, an upper middle class spinster lady in her thirties Elizabeth Trant and a young Cambridge graduate Inigo Jollifant. They all escape from the suffocating restrictions of their respective lives and taken to the road where after some adventures they meet up with a broken down concert party of theatricals and the Good Companions are born. They travel the length and breadth of England in the 1920s during the post First World War depression . The story is one of escapism into a world of insubstantial and at heart trivial fun but it is none the less enjoyable fun for that. Along the way all our three main characters see that life has far more to offer than they had ever imagined and are changed and made ready to be happy and fulfilled by their time with the Concert Party. Their time with the GCs is not an end in itself but a vivaciously (largely) joy filled interlude in which they grow into the people they were always meant to be.

This is a funny story peopled by richly comical characters. It is worth adding that I do not think the characters could have been better realised than they have been by the cast of this production. For me Jess, Elizabeth, Inigo and Susie have lived in my imagination since 1981 as they are depicted here and seeing them again after thirty years during which time I have reread the book at least three times has just confirmed me in my view of how right the director, scriptwriter (the wonderful Alan Plater - also sadly recently deceased) the cast and crew got it as they created this fine piece of period musical drama. For me this is a wonderful realisation of a wonderfully entertaining novel.

As M J Nelson has pointed out there are reservations that one has to have about this series but I think MJN is being a little harsh in according it just three stars. Yes there are weak songs but there are some strong ones too and for me the good strongly outweighs the bad and lifts this three DVD set up to a four star rating.

There is a short "the making of" documentary attached to DVD 1 and as M J Nelson says and to be fair the distributor openly concedes, it is of atrocious technical quality but it contains Alan Plater interviewing J B Priestley and that is worth just closing your eyes and listening to if the grainy image on screen offends.

At £14.99 (as at time of writing) this is value for money. I have loved the novel since I first read it as a teenager and I am truly glad to be re-acquainted with my old theatrical friends once more.
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on 27 August 2017
Gets good after the first episode. I think I prefer the early 1930's film but still very good. Love Jan Francis.
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on 5 July 2013
I have just bought the DVD of Yorkshire TV's 1980 series dramatisation of J B Priestley's 1929 best-seller The Good Companions (one of my all-time favourite books) and it's a total delight. I remember seeing a few episodes when it was first broadcast, found the LP of the music in a second-hand store, know the 1970s West End musical version (André Previn/Johnny Mercer) and have read several of the negative customer reviews here on Amazon with bemused amazement. Did we see the same 3 DVDs?

Alan Plater's dramatisation of Priestley's 600-page novel is comprehensive, definitive and 100% effective for a full-length (over 7 hours) TV series. The writing, casting, direction, locations, photography, design and taste are faultless. It's got to be the perfect cast, every single character (even the supporting roles) absolutely spot on. The atmosphere of a catchpenny 1920s concert party touring Midlands towns and seaside resorts is beautifully captured.

Like Dennis Potter's innovative TV work of that period, it skilfully shifts from real life to musical fantasy, with production numbers, song and dance, both on stage and off, which, in my view, perfectly suits Priestley's own phrase in the novel ("these stumbling chronicles of a dream of life") and his own description in the TV interview about the series' making (included in the DVD set) of the novel's mixture of realism and fantasy ("a fairytale quality"), like Dickens' writing.

Some Amazon customer reviews' criticisms are very puzzling. One complains that key scenes from the novel (especially the backgrounds of Jess Oakroyd, Elizabeth Trant and Inigo Jollifant) are omitted: they are not, merely dropped into the TV narrative in a different order, as flashbacks. Another complains that David Fanshawe's songs are weak, out of period, or preposterous intrusions on the real-life narrative. I can't agree there. The fantasy element is important and many of the songs, which capture the nostalgic sound of the late 1920s, are charmingly tuneful and entirely appropriate ("Change at Hicklefield", "A Dream Of Life", "On the Road", "By The Sea", "Shuttle Street Rag", "Between The Lines", "Meeting New People" etc). Another complains that the film quality is poor. Given that technical methods have improved since 1980, I think the DVD looks fine.

I cannot recommend this beautiful TV series warmly enough and haven't been able to tear myself away from it. It's a complete joy, and a definitive dramatisation of Priestley's wonderful novel. And what a cast. Enjoy!
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on 17 April 2012
I first read Mr Priestley's masterpiece of a concert party on the road about 50 years ago and have re-read it many times snce,knowing and loving the characters like old friends.One fears that TV adaptations of something that one knows so well could miss the boat completely,but not so this one.Of course the adaptation is by Alan Plater whose Beiderbecke series was also beautifully done,and flat caps off to him,Yorkshire Television,and of course JB himself for such an enjoyable DVD that remains faithfull to the book throughout.They are all there,every name ,every location,every performance just right.We are in the middle of watching it all through again.If you loved the book,if you enjoy a rich tale beautifully told,and with a happy ending, get this and hours of pleasure.What we now want is a reissue of Lost Empires.
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on 29 September 2011
The 1980 Yorkshire Television version of The Good Companions has a number of merits but one major drawback. With a running time of seven and half hours it is by far the most extensive film or television treatment of J B Priestley's celebrated novel about a concert party and the several disparate principal characters who join it 'on the road'. Predictably, Alan Plater's adaptation is a skilful one. And give or take some less than polished singing the cast is excellent, with Judy Cornwell (Miss Trant), John Stratton (Jess Oakroyd), Jeremy Nicholas (Inigo Jollifant) and Jan Francis (Susie Dean)quite possibly the best ever performers in their respective roles. Production values are quite lavish and the big song and dance routines, in particular, are well staged. Leslie Sands' beautifully modulated narration is a quiet pleasure, spoken as it is by one of Priestley's greatest champions. The drawback - and it is a big one -is the musical numbers themselves, of which there are many, too many in fact. Moreover they occur in the action so often as to sometimes induce a feeling of tedium. David Fanshawe's music and Alan Plater's lyrics are mostly little better than servicable and collectively the songs are far inferior to those in the Andre Previn-Johnny Mercer musical version of 1974. There is an intended bonus in the form of a documentary 'On The Road - The Making of The Good Companions', which features a conversation between J B Priestley and Alan Plater, as well as extracts from the two film versions. This is interesting, even valuable, but the technical quality is generally poor as a result of the transcription being made from a single off-air recording.
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on 17 April 2012
An absolute delight. I did find the songs a bit hard to get used to and would have generally preferred the series without them, but the characters, acting and settings were delightful.
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on 1 April 2013
Having re-read the Good Companions recently I then just had to buy this video - was I disappointed! No not at all - it is beautifully cast and performed and even with the additional music it is very faithful to the book and has the bonus of a few moments of J B Priestley himself at the end.

Marvelous! It has not dated at all.
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on 17 June 2015
The best adaptation there is of J B Priestley's terrific book. Stays absolutely faithful to the original with the addition of some extra songs. Brilliant acting from the core cast and some wonderful cameos from many well-known faces. I loved every second of it
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on 16 October 2015
True to the book, very well acted and worth a look. Only downside the extra singing which seemed inappropriate, unnecessary at times and quite irritating. Overall though very enjoyable.
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on 26 June 2012
Alan Plater's script is a marvel, true to the Priestly's original in almost every respect. The main characters are drawn exactly as J.B. saw them and as they existed in my imagination. Having said that I have some quibbles over some significant episodes that were missed. First: We don't see Inigo's earlier experience as a public school teacher. Here was rich fodder for the comical scene of his firing. Second: In one scene, Jess Oakroyd is mysteriously warned of some unnamed happening and Miss Trant is confronted by the movie theater owner. The result of these dire warnings is the riot in the theater, which never actually takes place in the play. A pity! And Third and most important: On the charge of feebleness that Susie levels at Inigo, there is no follow-through. In the book, Inigo visits the theater owners and music publishers in London and tell them that they can have his songs if they will come and see Suzie in action on the stage, which they do. She then sees Inigo as a true man of purpose. Although the two never click romantically their relationship changes dramatically. I think this bit of character development is crucial to the story. Beyond that, the musical numbers off-stage, while well written and performed, were not only superfluous but detract from the story by appearing artificial; folks don't act that way in real life. That is, except for the very beautiful and sentimental final song, "Dream of Life" which is a tearful goodbye to all our beloved characters, All were well played but, for me, Frank Mills and John Stratton stand out. Buy this DVD and enjoy!
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