Four Reasons You Need to Watch Acorn TV’s Decline and Fall

Decline and Fall

Satire is an important part of our entertainment landscape. Its value is in placing distance between us and our failings, thus allowing perspective and the ability to save face from harsh truths about ourselves we would rather not see. There are some that would argue the British are at the top of the food chain when it comes to satire. After all, they can trace the history of satire at least as far back as Jonathan Swift, with his 1729 essay A Modest Proposal. The reason used for this belief is that the British are better at anything that involves saying things you don’t mean literally.

Which brings us to Decline and Fall, a book written by Evelyn Waugh in 1928. An interesting factoid; Evelyn was a man. Adapted for TV by BBC One, Decline and Fall is an entertaining, highly satirical romp through a twisted plot full of surprises. It is a three-part program, with hour long episodes. It will have its US premiere on May 15, 2017 only on Acorn TV, a streaming subscription service.

Compelling Characters

Pennyfeather, Fagan and Beste-Chetwynde - Decline and Fall

Waugh has created a group of characters that are compelling and shocking at the same time. The main character, Paul Pennyfeather, is a milquetoast divinity student at Oxford. There is nothing offensive about him, and it is his meek, naive nature that lands him in extraordinarily bad situations. Then there are his two fellow teachers at the school, Capt. Grimes, a dishonorably discharged soldier, and Mr. Prendergast, a former clergyman who lost his faith. In addition, there is Mr. Philbrick, the butler at the school whose past is shadier than a forest! Philbrick is a pathological liar and enigma.

Dr. Fagan, the headmaster at the school is incompetent and indifferent to everything but the opinions of the parents of the students. His two daughters are very different from each other, but nonetheless trapped in this world. Then there is Margot Beste-Chetwynde, the mother of one of Paul’s students, who is glamorous, aristocratic and hides a dangerous secret! The architect who transformed her house is also a perfect representation of pretentious artists.

British Social Classes and Schools

Pennyfeather, Prendergast and Grimes - Decline and Fall

A lot of British satire pokes fun at their social classes, and while this book was written in the 1920s, a lot of what it skewers is just as relevant today as it was then. Like The Great Gatsby, the upper class are portrayed as people with empty lives, living from one party to the next, or taking joy in rowdy destruction. At the school where the main character ends up teaching, the students are distrustful, and the staff is no better, a group of misfits and ne’er-do-wells severely unhappy with their jobs, and living for each day to end so they can drink away their sorry lives.

Sumptuous Settings and Costumes

Pennyfeather, Grimes and Fagan - Decline and Fall

The locations of the story vary from Oxford, to a public school named Llanabba in north Wales, to a formerly stately Tudor country house, to a prison. It is important to understand that in Britain public schools are not the same as public school in the US; the term public is used to mean not run by the church and thus non-church members may attend, but students pay tuition, which is similar to private schools in the US, except that the schools are non-profit. An example of an elitist public school in Britain is Eton. For profit schools in Britain are called private schools. The public school in north Wales is housed in a former castle, and the grounds are exquisite. The Tudor country house, turned into an art deco glass and concrete block home, is nonetheless stunning on the inside and gawk-worthy.

The costumes are amazing and you can tell that a lot of work into creating this period piece. In particular, the outfits worn by Beste-Chetwynde are stylish and classic. But, let’s not forget the men, who are also turned out in quite stylish and timely fashion ensembles!

Twists and Turns

Pennyfeather and Beste-Chetwynde - Decline and Fall

The three episodes take place primarily in three distinct locations, so each one portrays a different part of Paul’s journey through this twisted tale. Just when you think you know where the plot is going, suddenly, bam, nope, going in a different direction. And, the exact same thing can be said of the characters. They pop up in the most unexpected places as the tale progresses. The final twist is just so much fun and actually satisfying in a strange sort of way.


Have you seen Decline and Fall, which previously aired on the BBC? Do you plan to watch it when it premieres in the US? If you have seen it, or plan to, please let me know what you think of it – I always like to hear your opinions!