Monday, May 29, 2017

Decline and Fall

On a wild night of campus partying, naive theology scholar Paul Pennyfeather runs into a group of boisterous students who strip his clothes off for a gag. The next day, Paul (Jack Whitehall) is the one kicked out of Scone College, Oxford. With his future dashed, Paul seeks employment and learns that the only acceptable profession for expelled collegians is teaching.

Luckily, there's a position available at the Llanabba boarding school for young men in Wales. It's not a prestigious institution of learning, as the job counselor explains: "We class our schools into four grades here: leading schools, first-rate schools, good schools, and schools.The status of this school is 'school.' And 'school' is pretty bad." To make matters worse, Paul is supposed to teach German, play cricket, and give organ lessons--and he can do none of those things.

Jack Whitehall, Douglas Hodge, and David Suchet.
At Llanabba, Paul meets five  people that will play a major role in his life: the budget-minded headmaster Dr. Fagan; Grimes, a bigamous fellow teacher who is constantly "in the soup"; Prendergast, a colleague who hates teaching; Philbrick, the school's porter who may be a kidnapper and/or murderer; and Peter, an intelligent student whose beautiful, wealthy mother becomes the object of Paul's affections.

Over the course of three one-hour episodes, Decline and Fall traces Paul Pennyfeather's journey from the filthy halls of Llanabba to life among the rich on a plush country estate to hard labor in prison. This dryly amusing tale was adapted from the 1928 satirical novel by Evelyn Waugh. Best known stateside for Brideshead Revisited, Waugh based part of Decline and Fall on his own brief teaching experiences. He lost his scholarship at Oxford due to poor grades and, needing a job, secured a position at a preparatory school for young men in northern Wales. Hopefully, it was a better school than Llanabba!

Casting the lead role is key in a miniseries in which the protagonist is on the screen almost the entire time. Fortunately for Decline and Fall, former stand-up comedian Jack Whitehall is up to the challenge and gives a wonderfully droll performance as the innocent Pennyfeather. The standout among the fine supporting cast is Douglas Hodge (The Night Manager) as the rascally and resourceful Grimes (who agrees to a horrible marriage and then fakes his drowning on his wedding night).

Eva Longoria as Margot Beste-Chetwynde.
Of course, it's always a delight to see David Suchet (Poirot), who sports blonde hair as Dr. Fagin. Eva Longoria may seem like an odd choice for Paul's love interest, but she pulls off the humorous role capably.

Decline and Fall debuted on the BBC in March 2017. It's currently streaming in the U.S. on Acorn TV. If you're looking for a funny, intelligent show to watch this summer, then we enthusiastically recommend this one.

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