Tom Hollander, Rebecca Front and Ian McShane star in Doctor Thorne, adapted for ITV by Academy and Emmy Award-winning Downton Abbey creator Julian Fellowes, from one of his favourite novels by Anthony Trollope. A recipe for perfect Sunday night drama.
Tom Hollander takes the role of Dr Thomas Thorne, who lives in the village of Greshamsbury in Barsetshire with his young niece, Mary, a girl blessed with every gift except money.
Mary Thorne has grown up alongside the Gresham family, whose house, Greshamsbury Park, and status dominate the county. With Francis Gresham Senior having frittered away the family fortune, however, his wife, Lady Arabella Gresham, played by Rebecca Front, their daughters Augusta and Beatrice, and their handsome brother Frank face losing their home.
When the terrifying Lady Arabella Gresham discovers that her darling son, Frank, has fallen in love with Dr Thorne’s penniless niece, she is horriﬁed. Her husband Gresham is only being kept aﬂoat by very favourable loans that Dr Thorne has secured from a railway millionaire, Sir Roger Scatcherd, played by Ian McShane. However, Sir Roger is drinking himself into an early grave and the family’s ﬁnancial future lies with his unreliable son Louis Scatcherd.
Lady Arabella believes it is her son’s duty to make a rich marriage to save the family estate and launches a campaign to secure her son an heiress for a bride, aided by her scheming sister in law, the very grand Countess De Courcy and her conniving niece Alexandrina De Courcy. Their target is wealthy American heiress Miss Martha Dunstable.
We caught up with the good Doctor himself, Tom Hollander, for a quick chat.
Q: Why did you want to play Doctor Thorne?
“I was very excited to be oﬀered a part like this. It was interesting for me to play a straight lead.
“The context of a costume drama with ladies in bonnets talking about weddings was very familiar to me, and to everyone. But the casting of me as Doctor Thorne was a challenge and so I wanted to do it.”
Q: Who is Doctor Thorne?
“Doctor Thorne is a village doctor. A modest man and a bachelor who lives with his niece Mary (Stefanie MarEni), the only blood relation he has. He spends the story trying to protect her from the legacy of her origins, which are not good. The daughter of a village girl born out of wedlock after a seduction.
“Doctor Thorne is the moral centre of the piece. He is well liked in the village and even though he is only the doctor, all the rich people ask him for advice and guidance. They trust him and he is heavily involved and in charge of the ﬁnances of the Gresham household. The railway baron Sir Roger Scatcherd (Ian McShane) has lent the Greshams lots of money and they are heavily in debt to him. So Doctor Thorne acts as the go between to keep them from falling out. “He is selﬂess and constantly puts himself in a disadvantaged position if it means his niece will be okay. He’s always repressing his own selﬁsh feelings in favour of doing the right thing for someone else, so in that sense he’s a very impressive person. He is a very low-key hero but he stands up when needed and when he has to push back on people he does. He also has a temper.
“So he’s a Victorian virtuous hero but with a bit of a grump about him. That was very interesting to play.”
Q: Were you a Trollope fan?
“I’m ashamed to say I’ve never read Trollope so this was interesting. I looked at the book a bit, having accepted the part, to see what the character was like in the book. But mostly I worked from the scripts.
“I’ve heard people say Trollope is more nuanced. Dickens is more exaggerated and much more clear and the characters are very broad and very dramatic and there are lots of incidents. In something like Doctor Thorne it’s really about stopping incidents from happening. Most of the drama has happened in the past and it’s all about dealing with the consequences of the past. It’s ordinary life.”
Q: Had you worked with Julian Fellowes before?
“I worked with Julian Fellowes on Gosford Park a long time ago. It was lovely to be reunited with him after all that time. On my ﬁrst day ﬁlming we were in Wrotham Park in Hernordshire where we had also ﬁlmed Gosford Park in 2001. Fourteen years later there we are, Julian is Lord Fellowes, I’ve got grey in my hair and we were doing his latest. So that was fun.”
Q: How would you describe Julian’s adaptation of Doctor Thorne?
“It’s a fairy tale, it looks so beautiful. In one sense it’s like a rom-com. You see a couple at the beginning - Mary (Stefanie Mareni) and Frank (Harry Richardson) - and you hope they will eventually get together. But there are lots of obstacles put in their way that they have to overcome before they get there. It’s escapism and lovely to watch, very well cast with some great actors. Harry and Stefanie are new and in one of their ﬁrst jobs, so that was very exciting for them, full of the joys of spring, bouncing around, they couldn’t believe how lovely everything was. It was very healthy for us older jaundiced actors to be reminded how much fun it is.”
Q: Snobbery is one of the themes of Doctor Thorne. Have you experienced it yourself?
“I’ve certainly been around people who are snobbish. But who hasn’t? Social class snobbery of the sort that’s in Doctor Thorne seems particularly ridiculous because it’s so Victorian.”
Q: You ﬁlmed at many historic houses and estates. Does that help get into character?
“Yes, it does half the job. Along with the costume and the hair. So much of it is done for you. It’s about the transmitting of emotion for the actors. That’s what they’ve got to do. They’ve got to focus on trying to be authentic emotionally in whatever ﬁctional situation they ﬁnd themselves in. And then the cameras are all making them look beautiful in an amazing context when sometimes you’re not even quite aware of what the shot is doing. It was a very lovely autumnal tour in an Indian Summer around some of the most beautiful houses in the country. That was a very special thing.”
Doctor Thorne is on Sunday at 9pm on ITV.