The Forsyte Saga Collection

The Complete ITV Series


The Forsyte Saga Collection 

Series 1 & 2

Based on The Forstye Saga by John Galsworthy

Written by Stephen Mallatrat, Jan McVerry & Phil Woods

Production Design by Stephen Fineren

Art Direction: Peter Bull & Nick Wilkinson

Costume Designs: Phoebe De Gaye

Cinematography: Sue Gibson

Produced by Sita Williams

Music by Geoffrey Burgon

Directed by Christopher Menaul & David Moore

First aired: April 2002

U.S. PBS/WGBH: October 2002



Damian Lewis as Soames Forsyte

Gina McKee as Irene Forsyte née Heron

Rupert Graves as Young Jolyon Forsyte

Amanda Root as Winifred Dartie née Forsyte

Gillian Kearney as June Forsyte

Ioan Gruffudd as Phillip Bosinney

Corin Redgrave as Old Jolyon Forsyte

Ben Miles as Montague Dartie

Alistair Petrie as George Forsyte

Emma Griffiths Malin as Fleur Mont née Forsyte

Beatriz Batarda as Annette Forsyte née Lamotte

Lee Williams as Jon Forsyte

Amanda Ooms as Helene Forsyte



Television: Granada Television for ITV

Video: Acorn Media



Aspect ratio: 1.78:1

Resolution: 480i

Codec: MPEG-2

Average Bit Rate: 6 Mbps

Total Runtime: 424 + 275 min (11.6 hrs)

Number of Episodes: 10

Typical number of chapters/episode: 10

Average Episode Runtime: (70 min.)

Region Code: 0



English Dolby Digital 2.0 mono



English SDH



• The Making of The Forsyte Saga (20:25)

• Photo Gallery

• Bio Notes on Cast and Author



5 discs in two clamshell cases housed in a thin slipcase:

6 episodes (Series 1) + 4 episodes (Series 2)

Street date: August 14, 2012

Introductory Comment:

This 2002 Granada Television production marks the second time that John Galsworthy’s novels about the mid-nineteenth century Foryste family has been serialized for the small screen.  The 26-part, black & white 1967 BBC adaptation has long been considered a milestone of television costume drama, so ITV gave serious thought to tackling a new project based on books not nearly as popular in the U.S. as in the U.K.  That said it should be noted that John Galsworthy, whose name suggests the title of a painting as much as a Nobel Prize winning author (in 1932, twenty-six years after the publication of the first of the three novels that comprise The Forsyte Saga proper, and six months before his death) is eminently readable.  I came to this story only ten years ago and found much of it something of a page-turner, so engrossing are the characters across two generations.  In its way, it is very romantic, and this element is capitalized on for the present production.  The first of the two brief interludes (the other titled Awakening) with its cumbersome, but apt, title The Indian Summer of a Forsyte – was moving beyond all expectation.



The Story

The first series of the 2002 production covers the first two books.  The first novel is titled A Man of Property, to wit: Soames Forsyte, a man rehearsing for the part of Ebenezer Scrooge.  It’s not Scrooge’s stinginess that holds our attention but his acquisitiveness.  Soames Forsyte is a man who enjoys what is coming to him.  His name, property and inheritance certainly, but also a woman, a very specific woman, and one who gives him little encouragement.  It is this woman, Irene Heron, of no especial birth and without money or property herself, who sets his passions aflame.  I think it’s fair to say that until he meets Irene, quite by chance while on holiday at Bournemouth, he would not have thought himself capable of such feeling.



Soames may be overcome by feeling, but it is desire, not love; nor is it especially sexual desire that prompts him, though Irene may be the most beautiful woman he has ever seen.  He proposes to her despite a lack of cues on her part that would have invited such an entreaty, nor he is not the least concerned with Irene’s wishes or desires.  In fact, he’s is oblivious to them.  When she finally acquiesces, having been promised by her widowed mother a life without prospects if she does not marry this man at this time, and asks him to grant her her “freedom” if she cannot find it in her heart to love him after a suitable interval, he agrees.  Despite that Soames is a solicitor by profession, he really has no idea what he had just signed on for, no doubt thinking that she would come around once she saw what she would have to give up if she left him.  In any case, Soames considers Irene to be his property, regardless of any informal pre-nuptial agreement.  It is an assumption that engages a considerable part of the emotional energy of the entire saga.



Soames and Irene – together and apart, may be the centerpiece of the story – not least, the misadventure of his inevitable rape of her and her leaving him - but theirs is not the only drama of interest.  The first episode begins with the announcement by Soames’ younger brother, Jolyon – called “Young Jolyon” to distinguish him from his father “Old Jolyon” – that he would leave his wife and, alas, his young daughter, June, for June’s governess, Helene.  How Young Jolyon is ostracized by his family, understandably to some extent, and how the story of his estranged daughter, June,  figures in and is ultimately resolved is an important strand of the story that makes its presence felt through the generations of Forsytes in these two television series.



The Series:  7.5

Reading through Amazon user comments about this series (which incidentally is a re-release of Acorn’s 2002 and 2003 in a single package) is worth a read, as it shines light on our prejudices and expectations.  I suppose it is entirely understandable that we would want and expect a film adaptation of a novel to respect the author’s description of his characters, yet it is not apparent from the drama itself as to why Sita Williams and Granada might have cast this series the way they did, or why they diverged from some of the novels’ plot points.  Then there is the 1967 television adaption that naysayers hold up as a grail against which any other adaptation differs at its peril.



The most common complaint is the casting of Gina McKee as Irene.  Galsworthy describes her as fair haired with dark eyes, which surely is not the case with Miss McKee, nor does the author see her as old as she obviously is compared to Soames and Young Jolyon.  A surprising number of critics insist that McKee is not especially attractive or mysterious and thus hardly could have claimed the attention of Soames, who would have seen her as a trophy acquisition.  Funnily enough, when I learned that Gina McGee was cast as Irene, my eyes lit up, for I see her as exactly the sort of Irene that Soames desires, raven-haired, blu-eyed creature that she may be.  Perhaps that tells you more about me than of Galsworthy – but there it is.



As for Damian Lewis, I didn’t anticipate he would persuade me of any characteristic of Soames save his tenacity.  Yet I must say he grew on me.  Lewis must be projecting something right if I couldn’t imagine any woman inviting his touch.  As for Rupert Graves, I think him a little young for Young Jolyon. . . perfectly charming and naive in the first episode but lacking some as he aged.  All the same I like Graves enough that I found myself wishing his character the best, which is what we all want for him.



The secondary characters are just about perfectly realized: Amanda Root’s impish Winifred, and Corin Redgrave’s haughty, yet touching “Old Jolyon” (note his change of expression when he first espies his son at his return to London at the end of the first episode – it’s heartbreaking.)  Ioan Gruffudd hints at Bosinney the scamp from the moment we see him fawning over June, while the subtle exchanges between him and Irene tell us of the inevitable.  Some of the other male members of the family are less distinguished, Ben Miles’ Montague Dartie excepted, but the women acquit themselves with distinction.


Granada’s Forsyte Saga is handsomely set and costumed, though not as transporting to another time and place as, say, the BBC’s 2005 Bleak House or Foyle’s War.  Sue Gibson’s photography, for all its Renoiresque filtering, tries too hard.



Image: 6/5

Soft, yes, even for DVD.  Filtered, perhaps shot in 16 mm. A case can be made for the softness being in keeping with the remoteness of the subject.  I thought it worked well enough, though the use of minimal depth of field is too modern; and when two people in the frame are in dialogue with each other it is decidedly wrong-headed.  Color is also a little muted, again in keeping with the setting; grain is present more than I liked.  Edge enhancement is minimal and no other transfer artifacts are troublesome.



Audio & Music: 6/8

Given that there are no subtitles fro the first six episodes, I would very much have liked the audio rendered in PCM.  Nope. Just tried and true Dobly Digital.  It’s OK as far as it goes, but soft-spoken dialogue can be a strain as are the more subtle effects.  Geoff Burgon is writing some way from his earlier prizewinning Brideshead score.  His music for Brideshead was more nostalgic; Forsyte seems more generic, more content, less restless, but it gets the job done and is properly folded into the mix.



Extras: 3

The principal bonus feature is a twenty-minute piece misleadingly titled “The Making of The Forsyte Saga.”  In fact there is only about two or three minutes devoted to the making of the series – specifically in regards the construction of and CGI re the Robin Hill house, despite our hearing from the producer and make-up and set designer.  Instead, everyone, especially the actors, discuss their characters and how they move the story along.  The comments are often insightful, but in most ways this feature is little more than an expanded synopsis.



Operations & Presentation: 4

The “Collection” is merely the two previously published series housed in a thin, but functional slipcase.  Series One contains three discs, each with two episodes of roughly 70 minutes.  Series Two contains two discs, each with two episodes.  Sadly, there are no subtitles for the first series - a huge disappointment. Better than nothing, I suppose, Acorn’s subtitles for the second series are a competing yellow.  Also there is no Play All feature to the menu design, so that at the end of the first episode of each disc you have to migrate to the main menu and from there choose the next episode.



Recommendation: 7

A great story, movingly told.  OK, so it’s not exactly the book or the 26-part 1967 BBC adaptation, but this 2002 11+ hour version of The Forsyte Saga, here presented by Acorn in the complete ITV broadcast cut, stands well enough on its own terms.  Picture quality is soft but dialogue and music are clear and well balanced.  There are no subtitles for the first series (episodes 1-6), which may or may not be a problem for you.  At this writing, Amazon’s price for the two series sold separately is less than the “Collection” however, the list price for the Collection is less so look for a lower sell price soon.  Recommended.




Leonard Norwitz

© LensViews

August 6, 2012

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