Julia review – Sarah Lancashire shines as Julia Child at the dawn of TV cooking shows

It’s not often a show comes along that really, truly leaves you satisfied. But just like the cooking that we see in the show, this excellent comedy drama from HBO Max is a programme that is warm, nourishes the soul and gives you everything you need to sustain you throughout a tremendous and entertaining experience.

Julia stars Sarah Lancashire as cookery teacher, author and broadcaster Julia Child, who in the 1960s became an unlikely pioneer of television cookery in the United States. Already a successful author, Child, who wrote the book Mastering the Art of French Cooking turned her attention to television when she was in her 50s, and despite many people doubting whether she would be the right face of television cookery became a huge star, and along the way paved a path for the modern cooking TV that we see today.

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This HBO Show begins with Child being told that she is going through the menopause, which gives Julia a newfound impetus to do even more with her life. Immediately, we are introduced to an inspirational no-nonsense character who is filled with spirit and determination. She ends up getting herself a guest spot on a local television station in Boston, which after the reception to her performance leads to the commissioning of her own show, The French Chef.

It is around the creation and execution of this culinary programme that the majority of the show is focused. Because, although today every other celebrity seems to be a chef and half the schedules are taken up with cookery shows of one type or another – in the 1960s, this was a pioneering format. Indeed, The French Chef would go on to blaze a trail for the TV cookery shows that we see today both in the style of presenting, the camera angles, sets and general feel of the programme. Although you may not know it, you have seen hours of programmes on TV already that have a little slice of The French Chef somewhere within them.

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Julia is a gentle and sweet portrait of this show coming together intertwined with the fascinating life of Julia Child that runs in tandem with it. We explore the relationship between Julia and her husband, Paul (played with his usual brilliance by David Hyde Pierce). A diplomat who has turned his hand to art in his latter years, Paul is swept along with the rise and rise of Julia’s career. We also get to know the people that helped the Child media machine turn, most notably her editor Avis DeVoto, played in the show by Bebe Neuwirth.

Elsewhere the show delivers a glimpse inside the world of publishing and television-making in the 1960s. But there is never time for the show to become too focussed on anything or anyone else, because like a force of nature, Julia, with all her charismatic charm, wit and personality comes crashing through all of these worlds and lights up the screen.

At the heart of everything is Sarah Lancashire who delivers one of the performances of her life in the lead role. Biopics are often challenging for actors as you don’t want to fall into the trap of simply mimicking video of a real person, but equally you need to capture their essence in your own performance. In this case, there is the added complication that Meryl Streep played Julia Child in the 2009 film Julie & Julia, and once again one would not want to be overly influenced by that. But with all this to think about, Sarah Lancashire delivers an effortlessly brilliant interpretation of Julia Child, doing what a great actor does best – making the role her own from start to finish.

Julia is a show that will make your day better. It’s got aesthetic appeal, warmth and charm, and a story that is compelling, amusing and inspirational.

Watch it now on Sky/ NOW in the UK and HBO Max in the US

Tim Glanfield

Tim Glanfield is a journalist, editor and broadcaster with more than 15 years experience writing about television, film and the entertainment business. He has been editor of RadioTimes.com, a writer for The Times (of London) and the Guardian as well as a freelance contributor to newspapers, magazines and websites across the world. He is author of the book Digital Economy or Bust: The Story of a New Media Startup and makes regular appearances on TV and radio in the UK.

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