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Rewind: "Monarch of the Glen"

I'll admit that I found the BBC's Monarch of the Glen to be a little, well, twee the first time I caught an episode on BBC America. When Monarch's first season was released on DVD a few years back, I decided to give the series a second chance and placed it in my Netflix queue. Happily, I quickly became enchanted by this Scottish drama about the conflicting forces of familial duty and personal desire and eagerly consumed the series' subsequent seasons on television.

Over the past few years, Monarch has quickly become one of my favorite series, a cozy cup of tea before bedtime in television form. Granted, Monarch of the Glen is a drama series so chaste that characters seem to fall in love and propose after nothing more than a first date and a peck on the cheek, but that's all part of the charm of this wacky, whimsical family drama, set in the gorgeous Scottish Highlands.

At the start of the series, prodigal son Archie MacDonald (Alastair Mackenzie) arrives at Glenbogle, leaving behind his career as a restaurateur and his icy girlfriend Justine (Anna Wilson-Jones), to take on the role of laird and save the family estate from financial ruin. He soon becomes entangled in an ongoing family drama, cast between his gambling-addicted mother Molly (Susan Hampshire) and lunatic father Hector (Richard Briers), whose "accident" upon a jet ski has led Archie to succeed Hector as, you guessed it, the monarch of the glen.

Uneasily settling into his new role as laird, Archie is soon reacquainted with the local denizens of Glenbogle: his childhood flame, holier-than-thou Katrina Finlay (Lorraine Pilkington), cheeky housekeeper Lexie (Dawn Steele), gullible/adorable assistant ranger Duncan (Hamish Clark), and gruff estate ghillie Golly (Alexander Morton). In between trying to come up with schemes to save his family and the estate, Archie often is called to keep the peace between these colorful characters. Will Archie be able to turn the estate around... or will Glenbogle's residents instead drive Archie to madness?

Much of Monarch's fun comes from the schemes that the characters engage in, whether it's a feud between Hector and neighboring landowner Lord Angus Kilwillie (Academy Award-winning screenwriter of Gosford Park Julian Fellowes) over who has the tallest tree in Scotland, the same duo stealing and re-stealing a barrel of priceless whiskey from Archie, or Molly arranging a poker game with a thug to pay off her mounting gambling debts... without Archie finding out, of course. Poor wee Archie often finds himself in quite a pickle, dealing with the constant haranguing of his family and employees, all of whom want something from him. And that something is usually money, which they've got precious little of, or sex, seeing as nearly every female character on the show has one time or another fallen for the laird's charms. (To name but a few: Justine, Katrina, Lexie, Stella, etc.)

But wacky residents and lovelorn housekeepers aside, Monarch of the Glen is definitely a drama and there's tragedy lurking in the corridors and crevices of Glenbogle estate. The MacDonalds' eldest son Jamie drowned in a boating accident on the loch as a teenager. A thirteen-year-old Archie was in the boat with Jamie when it happened and Hector and Molly never truly recovered from Jamie's death, nor has Archie who continues to blame himself for the death of his older brother. Not only then, is Archie's role as laird a burden and responsibility too heavy for him to handle, it's also one that was never intended for Archie in the first place. If Jamie's death has cast a pall over the beautiful Glenbogle estate, then perhaps Archie's return to his ancestral home can set things right.

Additionally, Monarch of the Glen deftly mines the conflict between the decaying (and literally crumbling) world of the old aristocracy and the modern, 21st century and much of that conflict is embodied in the relationship between futurist Archie and traditionalist Hector, set against the backdrop of a stunning castle that is literally sinking into the earth. Smartly, however, this theme is never the exact focus of the series, a blend of romantic drama, comedy, and cozy family yarn.

The MacDonalds and their loyal retainers are characters that you soon grow to love (I know I did) and you long to reconnect with them again and again. One caveat: don't get too attached to any one of them as Monarch has a habit of writing out its supporting characters with alarming frequency. It doesn't help matters either that the series' main cast members sadly move on over the course of its seven-season history. Even central protagonist Archie departs the series during the fifth season to go climb a mountain (seriously) with his errant sister Lizzie (don't ask). While those departures are far from being the smoothest in television history (especially Archie, and Duncan, who leaves to become a radio DJ in a hospital), it's rather sad to note that by the end of the series, very few of the series' original cast members remained. And while Monarch's producers brought in new characters to spice things up, one can't help but miss Archie, Lexie, Hector, and Duncan. (Hell, I even miss Katrina.)

To that end, I suggest sticking with the basics and watching the first four seasons of Monarch on DVD and, luckily for you, the fourth season was recently released. While there's definitely something rewarding about watching the later seasons (I eventually grew to love Paul, the long-lost MacDonald son who replaces Archie as the series' central figure), those first four series tell a complete story arc for Archie, from his reluctant arrival at Glenbogle to his departure with his bride on their well-deserved honeymoon at the end of Season Four. It's at that time that Archie gets the Glenbogle estate in somewhat of a working order and is able to leave the place in someone else's hands for once.

Sadly, BBC America has in recent years shown much disrespect to one of the programs which made its name synonymous with quality programming, scheduling the series at odd hours (the sixth season aired on Saturdays at 3 pm PT) and now unceremoniously yanking Monarch of the Glen off the air altogether. Additionally, the digital cable network has so far shown little inclination to air the seventh and final season of Monarch, which aired last fall in the UK.

I can only hope that the show's loyal viewers will eventually be able to see how this charming series ends; in the meantime, there are four fantastic DVD sets of Monarch of the Glen with which to reminisce about the MacDonald clan. But I just know that, faced with similar circumstances, Archie and that incorrigible Glenbogle gang would gleefully cook up a wee scheme or two to get their way...

The first four season of "Monarch of the Glen" are available to purchase or rent; the series' fifth season is currently scheduled to be released in October.

What's On Tonight

8 pm: Rock Star: Supernova (CBS; 8-9:30 pm); Most Outrageous Moments/America's Got Talent (NBC); Blue Collar TV/Blue Collar TV (WB); George Lopez/Freddie (ABC); So You Think You Can Dance (FOX; 8-10 pm); America's Next Top Model (UPN)

9 pm: Criminal Minds (CBS); America's Got Talent (NBC; 8:30-10 pm); One Tree Hill (WB); Lost (ABC); Eve/Cuts (UPN)

10 pm: CSI: New York (CBS); Law & Order (NBC); Lost (ABC)

What I'll Be Watching

10 pm: Ramsay's Kitchen Nightmares on BBC America (9 pm ET).

If you missed your Monday night fix of Gordon Ramsay, here's your chance to catch him this week. On tonight's episode of Ramsay's Kitchen Nightmares ("Oscar's"), Gordon faces one of his toughest challenges yet as he's forced to contend with Irish mother-and-son team of Maura and Lenin, a bickering pair constantly at one another's throats. If that weren't bad enough, chef Lenin is an alcoholic whose drinking problem often lands him in the hospital... during service. Will Gordon be able to knock some sense into their heads and save the restaurant?

10 pm: Project Runway on Bravo.

It's the third season premiere tonight of Bravo's smash hit reality series Project Runway. I've never watched the show before (I know, I know!), but seeing as everyone I know watches and lives by this fashion competition, I will be watching this season. Catfights, fashion victims, and Heidi Klum. What more could you ask for in a reality series?


Anonymous said…
Project Runway: Judging by last night's "Road to the Runway" where the new contestants were intro'd, this definitely looks to be another great season.
Vance said…
Wow. Someone else watches Monarch of the Glen! I caught it a few months back while resting in Hong Kong (of all places) and somehow kept coming back to it. Yes, it's total comfort food tv but the slower pacing is a nice touch and watching Archie trying to deal with everyone is quite amusing! Funny that you wrote an article about it now!
Jace Lacob said…

I've been rewatching the series on DVD from the beginning (I'm now at the beginning of Season Three) and had to spread the word.

I cannot tell you how much I miss this show and how much I wish that BBC America would program the final season already!
Anonymous said…
It's funny. Once in a blue moon I meet someone else who watches "Monarch" and there's an immediate connection. Apparently, it has its own little cult followig here in the states. I just wish they would release the final season here. While the first four seasons were definitely the best...I still need closure!
Anonymous said…
WOW! I love it..I mentioned it at work and two people almost jumped out of the seats to say they watch the show, love it and then went on to talk about their favorite show(s). I just finished Season 6 and cannot wait for Season 7!
Anonymous said…
I don't know if you are still updating/reading, but Monarch Series 7 was released on DVD in the last week of October this year. Just finished screening the final DVD and I'm a bit sad to say goodbye to Glenbogle. Be sure to watch the extra film.
Anonymous said…
I went absolutely mad for MotG when I tripped across it on Netflix; having significant Scottish lineage I was delighted to find a BBC show filmed in Scotland. I quickly came to love the characters, with the exception of "Lexie", whom I found unflatteringly mouthy and tacky, certainly not the demeanor of someone in long-term service in a great house, not in keeping with the tone of the show, I think. Even her wardrobe was questionable, cheap-looking, and the hair was dreadful; nothing about her suggested the viewer could suspend disbelief long enough to accept her as wife of a Laird of an estate like Glenbogle. The red gown debacle just went along with how wholly unsuited she was for the role as Laird's wife. Everyone else, however, was simply wonderful and the characters were well drawn & endearing.
The thing is, what is it about Julian Fellowes that actors tend to leave his shows in droves ?? So many of the cast left MotG, and they were characters central to the show, so it did have quite an impact. I stayed glued to the set watching the first 4 seasons and then my heart broke when I realized Archie wasn't coming back in a l later episode. The episodes which followed saw most of the original cast abandoning ship along with my affection & interest. You'd have to admit that kind of continuing central character loss is very unusual in a popular show. Now "Downton Abbey" is airing on PBS and is a tremendous smash; already one of the central actors declined to renew his 3 year contract, was just killed off. One has to wonder if the "Fellowes Curse" will carry on. ??
MotG was wonderful, it is truly a shame that it was allowed to deteriorate the way it did. With all my heart, I wish there were something to take it's place and fill the void it left. *sigh*
Kathy said…
I recently discovered "Monarch of the Glen" and fell in love. Another reviewer used the term "comfort food tv" to describe the feelings he had for the series. That it is the exact phrase I used in telling others about this delightful show.

I, too, was sad to see so many of the main characters depart, but it seemed as though the writers tried to compensate for that by writing in new, interesting characters. They may not have had the "pizazz" that Hector, Archie and Lexie had, but they kept my interest. One disappointing new character was that of Paul Bowman. His mercurial temperament was annoying at times, because there was absolutely no rational reason for it. I can't imagine any "manly man" being such a sensitive diva, and I think it hurt his longterm popularity on the show. He was definitely eye candy, though.

One other thing that I found strange was the way characters (Archie and Lexie in particular) would suddenly fall in love and marry. There was no development of that part of the plot, and it was somewhat jarring for me as a viewer.

All in all, this was a lovely series. The gorgeous Scottish Highlands, the beautiful Scottish brogue, the humorous situations, and the wonderful characters made it one of the most worthwhile series I've ever watched.

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