I keep trying to find upsides from the pandemic. One of them has been the chance to watch some TV shows and films I've missed, or not watched for a long time. I've now had a second look at two television series which aired in the 70s and 80s respectively. They are adaptations of Dorothy L. Sayers' Lord Peter Wimsey novels, with different actors playing Wimsey. All the books but Whose Body?, Unnatural Death and Busman's Honeymoon were screened. There has never been a TV or film version of the under-rated (but tricky to film) non-series novel, The Documents in the Case.
The first thing to say is that both series stand up to the test of time. Much better than I'd have expected, to be honest. This is perhaps especially true of the first series, starring Ian Carmichael as Wimsey. One tends to under-estimate Carmichael, and as he admitted himself, he was really too old for the part, but he throws himself into it with so much enthusiasm that one can't help but be swept along. He was a real fan of the stories, and that degree of commitment is evident. Wimsey isn't the easiest character to play, because of his (often deliberate) mannerisms, but Carmichael does a good job. The production values aren't brilliant, but the scripts are very capable.
I had warmer memories of the subsequent series, featuring Edward Petherbridge. The way in which he conducts his pursuit of Harriet Vane (splendidly played by Harriett Walter) is slightly more mannered than I recalled, but his performances are consistently good, as he rises to another testing challenge. Wimsey in the later books had become less of a Woosterish 'silly ass', and rather more of a romantic hero. There was some element of wish fulfilment in his portrayal, as Sayers herself admitted, and also in that of Vane, but I've always thought that it's rather patronising, as well as less than accurate, to say that Sayers 'fell in love with her hero'.
Sayers' ambition as a crime writer was admirable. Yes, there are flaws in all the books, but there are riches too. And by and large, the stories make excellent television. Five Red Herrings is a relatively plodding alibi mystery, but the TV version was, for me at least, definitely more enjoyable. The screenplay of Have His Carcase might perhaps have been better as three episodes rather than four, but reducing the chit-chat in Gaudy Night resulted in an entertaining version that captures some of the flavour of the original without the prolixity. I also loved Richard Morant's version of that estimable sidekick Bunter.
So - Carmichael or Petherbridge? If you'd asked me a year ago, I would definitely have opted for Petherbridge's interpretation. But on reflection, I must say that both actors (supported by very good casts) do an excellent job. For escapist viewing, both Wimsey series are perfect for these troubled times,