Film adaptations of books are a tricky subject. Readers can be devoted, almost fanatic, resistant to even the most reverential of changes. Worse, some adaptations massacre the original. With a couple of not very notable exceptions, John le Carre's novels have always been atrociously served by film, or TV, as have Iain Rankin and Dick Francis.
There are, however, adaptations that prove to be superior to the original - David Mackenzie's Young Adam being one of them The Forsyte Saga - To Let is another. John Galsworthy's three volume tome - rambling, dated, much preoccupied with long dead deeds and covenants - is one of those books that you'll probably feel grateful to TV for telling it so much better.
Series One stripped away much of the family's getting and spending and concentrated on the disastrous marriage between Irene and Soames. Once married, Soames considered Irene - graceful, elusive, icy - as a possession like any other. Finally, when assured of her indifference and her infidelity, he rapes her. She promptly runs off with his brother, and has a son, Jon. Soames remarries and has a daughter, Fleur. And, as in all good fiction, from the Montagues and Capulets onwards, the two children grow up, meet each other and fall in love to a background of attractive camera angles and parental fury. The theme of Series Two is the many ways in which parents and past history can fuck you up.
The filmmakers's decision to stick to the core of the story and cut out much of the surrounding detail is both a strength and a weakness. Its strength is a more powerful narrative drive and its weakness is to rely so heavily on the performances of the four main protagonists - Soames (Damian Lewis), Irene (Gina McKee), Fleur (Emma Griffiths Malin) and Jon (Lee Williams).
Malin and Williams - and the rest of the cast - turn in good, clever performances, but it is Lewis and McKee with whom the camera ends up running away. This is part of the nature of the story, with its obsession about the past, but also because Lewis manages to convey Soames's crabbed, volcanic moods, his stiffness of movement and mind and his despairing attempts to bring the world to heel, with such brilliance and understanding that it is impossible not to want to see him in every frame. As an actor, he is better known for his manly, virile army roles (Band Of Brothers, Warriors), but in this, he ages before your eyes. It is a tribute to his skill that he manages to convey such sympathy for a man who, in the book, at least, was foul enough to make you want to fling him across the room.
Of course, it is beautifully shot, beautifully lit and beautifully dressed. Although largely inexplicable to an audience which hasn't seen Series One, these four episodes are worth watching just for Lewis and the nice frocks.