1914 Christmas at Emmerdale!
Emmerdale fan and amateur writer Holly Foster reviews the first book in the Emmerdale saga series, Christmas at Emmerdale.
The Sugdens in crisis. A rich family lording it over from the manor house. Forbidden love. Secrets shared. Pints pulled amid scandal at the Woolpack. Sounds just like your average episode of our much-loved Emmerdale. However this is Beckindale, 1914, brought to life in Pamela Bell’s novel incarnation of our favourite village.
Edwardian Beckindale has yet to become Emmerdale and yet reading the novel, it feels very similar to ITV3’s recent showings of what is now called Classic Emmerdale and evokes a real sense of the period and its hardships.
Straight off the back of Emmerdale 1918, the successful series that aired on ITV in November 2018, 100 years after the First World War conflict ended, there is something very familiar about the depictions of the families and the buildings that we have come to love, including the Woolpack and of course, Emmerdale Farm itself.
Maggie Sugden is a modern heroine who fills the role that we associate with the stalwart of Classic Emmerdale, Annie Sugden with a complex, carefully layered character that immediately engages and it is made very clear from the beginning that this is not just Emmerdale but in a period setting, Beckindale lives and breathes with gossip and secrets just as it does on the screen, with beautiful and sometimes rough Yorkshire accents transposed through the witty, broad dialogue.
Whilst some faces are completely new, others are thinly disguised as characters we know and love in the present day. The slow farmhand with a heart of gold could be Sam Dingle, the glamorous aristocrat family who rule from their luxurious abode of Miffield Hall (now the prestigious Home Farm) in the form of the noble Verneys are fairly similar to The Tates and their various replacements (albeit without the drama!).
Its obvious that the writer has done a substantial amount of research to blend the timelines, as true Emmerdale fans will know, the Verneys remained right up until the early 1980s when George Verney sells off the estate to Alan Turner!
Their presence from the otherwise mainly village based saga adds a Downton Abbey feel to the storylines as we experience the highs and lows of the upstairs and downstairs roles, focusing mainly, particularly in the early part of the novel, on Verney golden boy and heir, Ralph Verney, whose appearance is reminiscent of the playboy heartbreaker Joe Tate, caught up in a forbidden romance. We even experience the arrival of village ‘troublemakers’ the Dingles in the form of three Irish brothers, whose traits will be immediately recognised in those of their descendants as they cause havoc for the village from the moment they appear. The trio are endearing and Bell manages to keep their characters completely unique, separating their various personalities so that they never lose that ‘Dingle’ essence.
Yet it is Maggie who takes centre stage, a driven, downtrodden, yet determined young woman who strives to do the best for her family whatever the cost, earning the disdain of the village gossips Betty and Ada respectively, just like Betty and Edna in the 2000s! We see the struggles of everyday life running the farm and this bleak world through her eyes, at times becoming quite uncomfortable and distressing, but Bell manages to keep us hooked right to the end. (I read the book in two days!)
Storylines are intertwined seamlessly in a way that only someone who is familiar with ‘TV writing’ can achieve and I certainly came to care for the characters in a way that gave me sympathy for their various troubles and triumphs, just as we express our fandoms for our favourite pairings and characters now!
Whilst the outer cover depicts a very cheery, merry scene of children sledging along what we now know as Main Street, the novel is far from festive, at least for the first three quarters, tackling some truly brutal and sensitive subjects that shock and surprise the reader in equal measure and like our own beloved soap, doesn’t shy away from the truly heartbreaking or groundbreaking, even as a period drama!
This is mainly due to the backdrop in which the novel is set, as the war tightens its grip and the barriers of wealth, class and status crumble, the village is forced to pull together for the sake of their struggle for victory.
My only disappointment, probably due to the amount of time that passed until the next novel in the series was published, is that the ending was left with a devastating cliffhanger, just like that tense half hour break of a Thursday double episode!
Having read the next novel, I know that in comparison, this first novel is more to the style of ‘Classic Emmerdale’, however the next one is far more thrilling with some spectacular moments just like a Super Soap Week!
It would be amazing to see this adapted for the screen, (producers take note) as a Christmas or winter spin off. I can only hope that this is in the pipeline!
Overall, whether you’re looking for that Emmerdale fix, or just love a period drama, Christmas at Emmerdale is a true tribute to our favourite soap!
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