Nothing quite says Christmas like a bonnet…or is that Easter? Well the BBC seems to currently have the world supply of headwear and they have been showing it off all this week in their schedules. The undoubted champion bonnet bonanza can be found in the adaption of the Louisa May Alcott’s American classic Little Women. Set during the American Civil War, this was always going to be a bonnet beater. And how. Tall bonnets, short bonnets, frilly bonnets; they had the whole set. The bonnets were mainly sat on the heads of the four lead characters, the four “Little Women” of the title. Or teenagers as we would call them these days. But if you were to simply call a book “Teenagers” then you would expect the book to feature moody, sullen youths, a bottle of cider and a pregnancy. To be honest, I have never read the book or seen the 1949 film, so it may still go that way.
The book tells the story of the lives of the four daughters of an Army Chaplain who has gone to fight in the Civil War and enjoy better access to a bathroom. The four daughters are called Jo…errr…Becky…Meg…there was definitely and Meg and…errmmm…Kylie?. Sorry, even though this book was written in the 19th century it’s prime chick-lit and so I’m still not really up to speed. I just remember them as; Uma Thurman’s daughter; the mardy blonde one; the freckly one who is scared of Michael Gambon and the other one. Oh and Angela Lansbury is in it as well. The story (conveniently) began at Christmas and we saw the philanthropic sisters giving up their Christmas breakfast (which looked a sizeable feast in itself) to the poor. Suffering at Christmas seems to be a theme in most of these dramas, but with them being historical it makes is more palatable. I’ve only watched one episode, but I’m guessing it will all come good in the end.
I’m not so sure about how The Miniaturist will end though. Blimey Charlie, that’s got a lot going on in it. Let’s start with the most important element. The bonnets. They were seventeenth century Dutch bonnets not nineteenth century American and basically seemed to consist of a handkerchief fashioned in a manner to make the wearer look as unattractive as possible. I’m not going to fully explain the plot (as I don’t fully understand it myself) but it’s set in Amsterdam, revolves around a trader and his “wife”, his bonkers sister and features an apparently demonic dolls’ house, one of the synths from Humans and people getting off their faces on sugar. Yep, only in Amsterdam. It looks beautiful, like a Dutch master painting with its black and white checked floors, dark wood panelled rooms and pasty white people looking miserable. Vrolijk kerstfeest, as they say in the Netherlands.
And of course, it wouldn’t be Christmas without our favourite midwife/nun combo in Call the Midwife. No bonnets, but wimples, caps and in this festive season bobble hats. Only Call the Midwife could make the knitting of a bobble a major plot point. As we said last year, Call the Midwife features terribly, terribly nice, posh ladies tending to the needs of the less fortunate (sound familiar?). But again, the distance of time makes it seem more palatable. Nothing quite says Christmas like an unmarried mother who is shacked up with a man who isn’t the baby’s father, living in a squalid caravan, who gives birth to a stillborn baby that come back to life after a quick cuddle on a hot water bottle. This is all a long way from Christmas Day entertainment of old. Whoever thought this would be the natural successor to the Morecambe and Wise Christmas Show?
But nostalgia is a powerful thing. Imagine if you took the story lines from these dramas and set them in the modern day without the parade of bonnets and rose-tinted memories. Poor, miserable people living in the East End of London with complicated and messy family relationships all compounded by the pressure of Christmas. No one would want to watch that with a glass of egg nog and a mince pie on a Christmas Day evening, would they? Which brings me onto EastEnders…..