Review: Julia, episodes 1-3, in which Sarah Lancashire is a marvel

Sarah Lancashire in Julia

Julia on HBO Max dropped the first 3 episodes of the 8 episode series on March 31. Future episodes will air weekly on Thursdays. The way Julia Child became “The French Chef” on public television is explored in these first episodes. It’s her origin story as a celebrity.

Julia stars Sarah Lancashire as Julia Child. If you saw the trailer, you could tell Sarah Lancashire was going to be fabulous as the charming and joyful Julia Child. She is even more fabulous than you thought. Her voice, her gestures, the way the camera is used to make her seem extra tall – it all works to create a woman that anyone would recognize as the famous Julia Child.

David Hyde Pierce and Sarah Lancashire in Julia

David Hyde Pierce plays Paul, her husband. He was forced to retire as a diplomat. There’s a lot of their personal life in the story. They are a loving couple, but he is as stuck in the past as a lot of men were in the 1960s. As Julia moves forward with her ideas, he takes some skillful handling on her part.

They were living in Cambridge when the story began. Paul spent his time painting. Julia was writing her second cookbook. They didn’t even own a TV.

While Paul was in the diplomatic service in France, Julia learned French cooking. She’d written a popular cookbook. It was published in 1961 by Alfred A. Knopf, and called “Mastering the Art of French Cooking.” This book is still in print.

Julia Child was a diplomat’s wife, well-traveled, and confident. She was in her 50s, earthy, not above a double entendre, and menopausal. It was the 1960s and women were doing things in the world. She wanted to do something, too. She had a crazy idea about teaching American women how to cook French food.

WGBH, the newly formed public television station, had her on to talk about her book. Instead she cooked the stuffy and staid host of the book talk show an omelette. Her appearance on that show got more mail than anything else the station had done. That key scene was also the essential Julia. Cooking on a coffee table, her rump to the camera, her delight in the food, her bubbly personality – it was 100% pure skill and verve.

Sarah Lancashire & Brittany Bradford in Julia

Julia sent a letter proposing her own cooking show to the station. It reached the attention of Alice (Brittany Bradford), a junior producer. Alice recognized what a great idea it was, but the men around her did not. The worst of these men was her boss Morash (Fran Kranz).

Finally Julia offered to pay for everything herself if she could make a pilot. Morash agreed to that. The pilot episode was hilariously difficult and not well executed, but Julia was herself and that showed through. She showed how to make Coq Au Vin with such simplicity that women made it at home. Some of those women were the wives of WGBH executives. Those women talked to their husbands. You can guess what happened next.

Over Morash’s objections, Julia was given a chance at 26 more shows. It was 1963. She was going to have to pay for a lot of it herself. She didn’t have the money, but she was determined.

Bebe Neuwirth and Sarah Lancashire in Julia

Her friend and staunch supporter Avis (Bebe Neuwirth) encouraged her and helped her raise money. Her editor Judith (Fiona Glascott) showed up to help. It wasn’t enough, however. Finally Julia asked her very unpleasant and negative father John McWilliams (James Cromwell) for money and he actually coughed up some!

They built a set, menus were planned, and the phenomenon that Julia Child was to become was ready to explode on the world. That took up the three episodes, which leaves five to come where the life of this famous cook will change completely. Wikipedia has a good list of all of her accomplishments, honors, and the many actors who have imitated her on film and TV. I credit Meryl Streep in Julie & Julia with doing a great job as Julia Child, but Sarah Lancashire is definitely a contender for the top spot.

Daniel Goldfarb created the show. The only woman director in the first 3 episodes was Melanie Mayron, but I do see more women’s names on the directors roster for coming shows. There’s a wonderful companion podcast about the series you might enjoy.

I can’t wait to see the next episode!

2 thoughts on “Review: Julia, episodes 1-3, in which Sarah Lancashire is a marvel”

  1. It takes a brilliant actor to portray such an icon as Julia Child, and Sarah more than foots that bill. Lancashire is unsurprisingly superb and delightful. Welcome to the US, Sarah–you deserve all the kudos we Yanks can (and will) muster!

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