Monarch of the Glen
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Destination: The Scottish Highlands

Tradition…tradition! That was Tevye’s cry, in the iconic musical, Fiddler on the Roof. He proclaimed the importance of defending centuries-old values against the constant pressure to surrender to the forces of change.

A modern twist on the Fiddler metaphor might be a bagpiper in the Scottish Highlands, like you’ll find in the terrific BBC mini-series, “Monarch of the Glen." It’s the comical, heartwarming story of the MacDonald family, an ancient clan facing imminent foreclosure on Glenbogle, their breathtaking 42,000-acre estate. It includes snowcapped mountains, a beautiful loch (lake) and a crumbling, once-magnificent castle.

The patriarch, Hector (Richard Briers) and the matriarch, Molly (Susan Hampshire) face the pressure to hold onto their centuries-long Scottish traditions, but realize they need to make dramatic changes if they are to find the funds to preserve that same beloved estate. So they make an urgent call to their son Archie (Alastair MacKenzie), a restaurateur in London, begging him to rescue his childhood home.

The financial crisis may provide the underlying drama, but it’s the eccentric cast of characters that make this series so much fun. They’re a great mix, and they manage to complicate Archie’s attempts to save the estate at every turn.

Hector is charming, narcissistic and exasperating; Molly understands the gravity of the situation but has a surprising secret of her own. Archie is bright, brooding, and handsome, so while he’s trying to concentrate on getting the estate in order, three women are openly fighting over him. Lexie (Diane Steele), the cook and housekeeper, is young, flirty, funny, clearly the glue that holds the place together--and she takes no prisoners. Duncan, the chauffeur/go-fer, dashes everywhere, creating endless puppy-chaos (kudos to actor Hamish Clark for keeping up the energy level required for this). Finally, Golly (Alexander Morton), the Scottish ghillie, is the sporting guide and protector of the estate and wildlife. He’s devoted, wise, sometimes intimidating--and as constant as the mountains themselves.

During the series’ seven-year run, there was considerable cast turnover, including that of the Laird (Lord), the head of the monarchy. The stories grappled with ways to redefine traditions, such as the role of women, the use of the land, or the purpose of the aristocracy, while continuing to honor the spirit of the clan. The MacDonald monarchy's responsibility included not only Glenbogle, but the small farmers and villagers who depend upon it for their livelihood. By the end of the series, there was a shift to a new vision not only of family, but of what it means to own and protect their breathtaking piece of the Scottish Highlands.

“Monarch of the Glen” was broadcast to over 100 countries, one of the most popular BBC series ever made. Like fans the world over, you’ll find it hard to resist the enchantment of the scenery--or the highly addictive, often hysterical, and truly delightful warmth of this show.

Speaking of which, I think it's time to book a trip to the north of Scotland.

"Monarch of the Glen" may be purchased by the individual series or the entire seven-season set. It is also available for rental or streaming; check with your provider.

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