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The Larkins review: Bradley Walsh is a perfick Pop in ITV's Darling Buds of May reboot

Looking for some gentle Sunday night TV? Look no further.

Bradley Walsh and Joanna Scanlan in The Larkins
Published: Sunday, 10th October 2021 at 9:00 am
A star rating of 4 out of 5.

The Darling Buds of May first aired in 1991 and with Sir David Jason at the forefront, it was always going to be a success – and probably untouchable. There are some characters you just can't recast, like Del Boy, Jack Frost, and Pop Larkin to name... all coincidentally (or perhaps not?) played by acting legend Jason.

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Enter bold and brave reboot The Larkins, which aims to bring back the classic sleepy dramedy as we approach the cold winter season.

When we re-meet the Larkin family, the characters all look a little different, but they're instantly recognisable. Bradley Walsh takes on Pop, Joanna Scanlan is the new Ma, and Sabrina Bartlett transforms into the new Mariette, taking over from Catherine Zeta Jones in the core The Larkins cast. And that really is where the differences end.

The newly-formed on-screen family have just as much charisma and charm as their predecessors, with their sleepy Kentish farm providing a beautiful countryside backdrop suitable for ITV's reboot. Blink and you might think it was mad 30 years ago, too, with a golden hue to the series that recalls beloved dramas of years gone by.

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As many would recognise from The Darling Buds of May, plot isn't necessarily crucial to the show. Yes, there are small capers the family get involved in, but it's hardly Line of Duty-level complex. There's a small romance thread throughout involving Mariette and her love triangle, which is largely straightforward but enough to keep us gripped.

It's not to the detriment to The Larkins that it's so simple – it's its strength. On a Sunday evening as the nights draw in after what's been a difficult 18 months for many, actually a sleepy drama set in the Garden of England is just right. Jed Mercurio, stay well away from this one.

The Larkins, as with the original series, is really about the characters. Ma and Pop lead the family through good times and bad, always with smiles on their faces. The kids have a proper childhood, with proper games (the kind you might even see warped on Squid Game), and the teens worry about courting and their futures, not about whether their latest Instagram post got over 50 likes.

Walsh is truly excellent as Pop. Undoubtedly all eyes will be on him, taking over from Jason in such an iconic role, but somehow, The Chase host manages to - dare I say - make you forget about Jason's turn. Cheeky, loveable and always with a plan up his sleeve, Walsh's Pop encompasses everything the character should be, all with that friendly London accent we're used to. Pop should be familiar, that's the point.

Self-confessed fan of the original books Scanlan, meanwhile, offers a lovely version of Ma – at once homely and comforting but also with grander visions of being someone in society. The scenes she shares with Walsh in the Larkins' bed are the most touching in the whole series, with both actors delivering an affectionate, delicate portrayal of family life.

Their kids are sweet, adding plenty of character and exuberance to the series. Smart, cheeky, kind and mischievous all in one go probably isn't the easiest characterisation to portray, but these talented young stars prove they can give the adults a good run for their money.

The Larkins

The Larkins

Bartlett takes on young and beautiful Mariette, who finds herself in a triangle between two men. The difference this time around is she's properly wily – in episode one she floors a tyrant of a lad who lead her sister on, instantly proving she isn't little lady Mariette.

And rather interestingly, the series seems to feel more modern when the teens are on screen. When Ma and Pop have a scene together, it's very clearly straight out of the 1950s setting the book is based in, but when Mariette takes centre stage, everything feels a bit younger and cooler; so much so in fact you could find yourself second-guessing when the series is set. Enter leather jackets, red lipstick and bouncy hair. Mariette feels one step from getting her iPhone out of her pocket in some scenes.

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The Larkins isn't necessarily anything revolutionary, but nor would you want it to be. If you want action, intensity and a convoluted plot so hard to follow you get a headache, this isn't it. But what it is is a joyous, comforting and homely show which feels like you're getting a big old hug. After the 18 months we've all had, The Larkins is exactly what we all deserve... perfick.

While you’re waiting to watch The Larkins, take a look at our other Drama coverage, or check out our TV Guide to find out what’s on TV tonight.
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