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Jamaica Inn on BBC1: Kathy Griffiths's TV pick of the week

By South Wales Evening Post  |  Posted: April 19, 2014

By Kathy Griffiths

The three-part BBC production of Jamaica Inn starts on 21 April.

The three-part BBC production of Jamaica Inn starts on 21 April.

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DOWNTON Abbey was never quite like this. Jessica Brown Findlay has swapped the servants, silks and afternoon tea as part of the Grantham clan for an altogether grittier way of life.

As Lady Sybil, she was always feisty and driven by moral outrage and her character in this faithful adaptation of the Daphne du Maurier classic is very similar.

Mary Yellan was born with none of those aristocratic advantages and at 23 she finds herself orphaned and in need of a new home, necessitating a long, precarious, not to mention muddy, journey to her only living relative, Aunt Patience. She lives at the creepy Jamaica Inn, a godforsaken ramshackle tavern in the bleak heart of Bodmin Moor. But if you thought the place was scary, just wait till you meet her husband Joss!

Joanne Whalley has just the right ethereal feel that du Maurier describes, she is woman both enthralled and terrified by her relationship with the brutish Joss (Sean Harris bringing us another scene-stealing performance of the kind he put as the serial killer in Southcliffe).

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Being a bright girl Mary soon realises that something strange is going on at the pub. It never seems to have any customers other than the odd assortment of thugs who take orders from Joss.

She works out they are stealing ill-gotten gains washed up on the remote Cornish beaches and, a bit like Indiana Jones and snakes, if there's one thing Mary can't stand, it's smugglers, who were responsible for the death of her own father.

Despite her disgust at her aunt's acceptance of this lifestyle and Joss's behaviour towards her, she sees she has little option but to go along with the gang. If she tries to run away the treacherous bogs on the moors could lure her to her death.

Offering a glimmer of hope, though, is the vicar, the calm and saintly Frances Davey (Ben Daniels) who seems as intent as she is on ending the nefarious goings on at Jamaica Inn.

Told over three consecutive nights, it's an absorbing tale and Cornwall, always du Maurier's favourite backdrop, is in turn beautiful, stark and potentially deadly.

Probably the most over-riding element to young Mary's life is the unremitting dirt, she is constantly wading a round in mud or sea and you can almost smell the damp and cold of her bleak surroundings. Brown Findlay proves she can carry a leading role with aplomb and Matthew McNulty (The Paradise's Mr Dudley) has just the right amount of charm and roguishness required for horse thief Jem Merlyn.

It remains a dark story, there's no skipping across the moors in slow motion, but one that still capable of keeping you in suspense. The real Jamaica Inn which inspired the novel is now a tourist attraction, doing a good business on the back of the book but following this adaptation you'll forgive me if I don't go there till memories of Uncle Joss subside a bit.

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