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‘I’d love to make more series, but we’ve got to stop eating!’ – The Larkins share their Secrets from the Set
HE Bates’ loveable Larkins are back, with Bradley Walsh and Joanna Scanlan spreading warmth and mischief as Pop and Ma. The cast, writer and director met the press to talk all things Larkin.
Thirty years after the exploits of Pop, Ma, Mariette and Charley made Sunday night television a national event, the Larkins are back to warm the hearts of 21st century viewers.
The latest adaptation of HE Bates’ Darling Buds of May books, The Larkins, is written by Simon Nye, directed by Andy de Emmony and stars Bradley Walsh, Joanna Scanlan and Sabrina Bartlett.
All five sat down to tell us how they put a fresh take on an old classic, how they coped with farmhouse feasts and how they think the public will fall in love with the Larkins all over again.
They didn’t watch the 90s version
David Jason and Pam Ferris memorably brought the Larkins to life in the 1991 ITV adaptation of HE Bates’ books, but neither writer Nye nor Walsh, Jason’s successor as Pop, rewatched the 30-year-old series ahead of The Larkins.
“I didn’t rewatch the original. I’d either end up stealing from it or thinking we could do far better. But I remember watching them and loving them and thinking ‘this is a great, warm place to be’ so it certainly imbued itself in me.
“Modern viewers are different from viewers even 30 years ago so there’s more plot, we’ve widened it to show the social context of the village and added some characters. We’ve covered the first book in these episodes, so we’ve taken that world and added to it.
“It’s modern in the sense that it moves on much more quickly than it did 30 years ago and we’ve brought in some lovely character actors.
“The books themselves are a great reminder of what it was about and I’d urge people to read them because they have a breeziness to them that still works today, even if they were written in the late fifties.”
Walsh admits to having watched very little of the 90s series and says it was the involvement of Nye – who had adapted Gerald Durrell’s books for ITV favourite The Durrells – that sold him on the project.
“I didn’t know the HE Bates books and I maybe watched one episode of the original show so it wasn’t really my area of expertise but they told me Simon was writing it – and I was a massive fan of the Durrells - and that was the defining moment for me,” he said.
The actor with the hardest slingbacks to fill was arguably Sabrina Bartlett, who plays eldest daughter Mariette, the role that catapulted Catherine Zeta-Jones to overnight success. While aware of the significance of the part, Bartlett says she wanted to portray the character on her own terms.
“I must confess that I hadn’t seen Darling Buds of May. It was something that I’d heard of but in auditioning for the part I didn’t look at the series, didn’t look at any photos, I just wanted my own interpretation of the character in terms of how she came across.
“At some point I’d love to go back and revisit that but I found it really useful to have someone else’s character in my head while we were on set and rehearsing.”
Ma Larkin means a lot to Jo…
Joanna Scanlan, who plays Ma, first met the matriarch at a formative time of her life and is delighted to have an opportunity to give something back to the character by portraying her on screen.
“I couldn’t believe there was an opportunity in my lifetime to play this character,” says Scanlan.
“She does mean a lot to me as do the books, I read them when I was very unwell when I was 14. I was stuck in bed for two weeks and very down in the mouth. My mum plonked this set of books – The Larkin Saga - on my bedside table and said ‘Read that’.
“And she changed me, I blossomed, I felt I could do anything if I’ve got Ma Larkin holding my hand.
“She means so much because she’s loving and warm, but real and flawed and able to make the world a better place. She isn’t the victim of anybody nor a perpetrator, she is just a happy woman who’s spreading the love. And there’s something about that giving, kind warmness that is the solution to most of life’s problems.
“A lot of drama isn’t based on that kind of character because you’re not generally creating a story out of that kind of person but it’s lovely to have an opportunity as an actor to play her.”
Mariette has been brought right up to date
Comparisons with Catherine Zeta-Jones are inevitable, and while the first glimpse of her character seems strikingly familiar, 2021’s Mariette, Sabrina Bartlett, is not just at a different stage of her acting career – she will be familiar from Poldark, Victoria and as Siena Rosso in Bridgerton – the Larkins’ eldest child is also very different.
“Simon has written this character for this time. We had lots of conversations about Mariette and what we wanted the audience to feel about her.
She knows where she’s going and she’s definitely got a mind of her own.
“What I loved when I read the script is she’s so empowered and so independent. She reminds me of a modern-day cowboy in the sense that she’s got her territory, and there’s another cowboy in the village, Pauline – she’s my nemesis: she rides a Vespa and I ride my horse and we come together for a stand-off.
“Nobody in the village has managed to capture Mariette’s heart, she’s completely independent and she has her eyes on the future so when the taxman comes to town it’s wonderful to discover the confusion she has about developing feelings for him in the face of what she wants to achieve in life.”
The kids are just 'perfick'
The Larkins has a big loving family at its heart and the cast say director Andy De Emmony created a filming environment in the Kent countryside in which the eight ‘Larkins’ could come together as a real family and live the life of the rural 1950s.
“I loved being around everyone. Working with younger cast members keeps you young, you can have a laugh, I really did enjoy it,” said Walsh.
Scanlan remembers the youngsters’ easy-going nature off set as much their hard work as on it.
“They brought so much to the screen and to the process. They’re the most heartwarming lovely kids. I never saw one of them looking at a phone in 14 weeks,” she recalls.
“They played outside, they sat on the grass, chatted and made daisy chains. It brought a tear to the eye remembering what childhood used to be and they seemed to represent that.
“They are the most competent, brainiest, most brilliant kids – you don’t really need a director because they are fantastic and natural, not just at performing but at understanding everything we’ve got to achieve during a day.
“Anyone who says don’t work with children and animals has got it the wrong way round.”
Bartlett, newly released from Bridgerton’s corset strings, found an irresistible instant family on The Larkins’ set.
“It was lovely on set, I felt like I’d bumped my head and fallen down a rabbit hole and inherited this wild, wonderful family,” she said.
“It was such a joy being in the 1950s. I loved my time on Bridgerton but going from wearing a corset and playing an opera singer in this tightly fixed world to being able to get muddy and mucky and ride a horse in the rain and wear wellies every day and having roast pudding was a complete joy.
“It was such a different atmosphere as well - burping, farting, piglets outside – such a lovely opportunity.
“I grew up in the countryside, riding horses and playing outdoors, running around quite feral with my little sister so for me it was great to go back to something I understood, that was a part of my life.”
“It’s a proper working farm!” enthused Bradley Walsh. “I get to drive a 1933 Rolls-Royce, a Ferguson 365 tractor, brilliant. I actually got to plough the field! It’s a bit tough for someone with hay fever though.”
Filming wasn’t without its dangers
Although much of the filming took place on a proper working farm – “I nearly got crushed by Bessy the pig…”, Walsh reminds us – one of the most perilous scenes took place in the Larkins’ bedroom.
“That first episode, when we were doing the bed scenes, they were some of the most frightening scenes of my life. Jo would wear a nylon nighty and I used to have a crew member with a lightning conductor that I could grip onto to earth myself.
“The Bri-Nylon is actually in the book,” Scanlan points out. “In the book she verifiably wears nylon nighties, and that’s part of what Pop is so attracted to.”
“Sparks fly!” Walsh shouts.
The food was all real
Nothing says the Larkins like the whole family sitting around a heaving dining table about to tuck into the finest country fare, and almost every piece of food that came out of Ma’s kitchen, says Joanna Scanlan, was mouth-wateringly real.
“It’s all real!” she says.
“I think there was one pie that didn’t have anything in the middle and got shifted around a couple of scenes. Nearly everything on that table was edible – and delicious. We had the most wonderful home economist who made it all and it was like going back into my grandmother’s kitchen.”
“I don’t know about the others but by the time we’d finished the series I ended up putting on eight pound in weight. Jo would bring some food to the table and I’d end up having that for lunch, I stayed at the table eating. It’s a tricky old show, they’ve just come to take my measurements for a new suit for The Chase.
“It would be great to do more but I can’t keep going out and buying new clothes. We’ve got to calm down on the eating, Simon. We’ve got to go and live somewhere by the sea and follow a Mediterranean diet.”
It’s perfect post-pandemic viewing
We’ve had enough doom and gloom in the last two years to last a lifetime, so The Larkins’ heartwarming adventures have returned at just the right time.
“The beautiful thing about the HE Bates books and Simon’s scripts is that the whole show is based around family, and giving and community and love and of having people around you. We are now in unprecedented times when that is foremost in everyone’s minds.
“This couldn’t be any more perfect timing, I just hope and pray the British public take it to their hearts and I think they will. To have such a cast, and guest cast too. I loved watching the first two episodes, I could have watched them again and again.
“This is a very warm, nostalgic show.”
“It was the combination of laughter and tears in Simon’s script that drew me,” says director Andy De Emmony.
“It was quite nice to have a project where we’re not killing anyone other than the occasional goose. Having gone through this pandemic it felt like a great time to make this series.”
And they’ll all be back for Christmas
Even before the first episode was even aired it was revealed that we’ll get to spend a Kentish Christmas with the Larkins.
“It’s right up the Larkins’ street. And I think you think you know what you’re going to get, but I don’t think you are!” teased Scanlan about the Christmas special.
“I will not say a word because there are twists and turns in it, but it genuinely does remind you what Christmas is really about, as well as giving you laughs along the way. But it does have a twist.”
“I’ve very excited, especially for the food!” joked Barlett. “There’ll definitely be ketchup! I’m so excited to be working with everybody again in this wonderful, eccentric, mad village.”
The Larkins begins on ITV at 8pm on Sunday October 10