Starring: Ray McNally, Jenny Seagrove
They certainly don’t make ’em like this any more. Adapted by Andrew Davies from a pair of semi-autobiographical novels by R.L. Delderfield, Diana is a leisurely 9-part romantic saga from 1984 about a working class Devonshire lad who pulls himself up by his bootstraps to become a Fleet Street journalist and newspaper editor after falling in love with Emerald (aka Diana), a free-spirited girl beyond his station. Love curdles into hate as Diana becomes a scandalous socialite and goes off the rails, then WWII intervenes – but will it spell doom or redemption for the star-crossed duo?
A slender young Ray McNally (you might know him as Gibbs the superstitious bosun in Pirates of the Caribbean) copes very well with a character arc and a half as the hero, John, who starts out callow and puppyishly besotted before going through stages of bitterness and resignation as fate and Diana’s erratic behaviour combine to pluck happiness from his grasp. As Diana, Jenny Seagrove – then the queen of the mini-series – struggles when she has to be twinkly and effervescent, but manages better when she’s conveying her character’s darker mood swings.
The real charm of the series, though, and the thing that makes it so compelling, is the way its relaxed pace and long, gossipy scenes leave plenty of scope for colourful supporting characters (Iain Anders as John’s starchily teetotal Uncle Reuben, Jonathan Lynn as a genially cynical news editor) and some vividly realized backdrops – the sleepy regional newspaper where John cuts his teeth writing up marriages and funerals, the even sleepier transport centre where he seems destined to see out the war in cosy comfort. Visually, the series is very much of its time, shot on a combination of video for interiors and film for exteriors, but by the standards of its era the production values are good, and the scripts are well worked, with Davies always ready to offset florid high drama with seedy low comedy. Not everyone’s cup of tea, of course, but if you yearn for the days when lengthy sagas ruled the airwaves, then this release is sure to appeal. The DVD transfer is bright, crisp and fresh. 8/10