'Julia' review: Sarah Lancashire outstrips Meryl Streep as TV chef

Sarah Lancashire plays pioneering telly cook Julia Child in new drama 'Julia'. (Seacia Pavao/WarnerMedia)
Sarah Lancashire plays pioneering telly cook Julia Child in new drama Julia. (Seacia Pavao/WarnerMedia)

For audiences who like their drama with a culinary feel, Julia from Sky should tick all the boxes. Premiering on Sky Atlantic and streaming on NOW with an Entertainment Membership from 12 April, it explores the life of trailblazing television chef Julia Child.

Embodied by Sarah Lancashire, best known for long running series Happy Valley, this is period-specific, character-driven drama at its best. Opposite David Hyde Pierce, who made his name as Niles in Frasier, this slickly scripted ensemble piece is solid stuff.

Read more: New on Sky and NOW in April

However, whether this appeases those looking for a drama with lashings of Great British Bake Off is another question altogether.

David Hyde Pierce and Sarah Lancashire in Julia. (HBO Max/Sky)
David Hyde Pierce and Sarah Lancashire in Julia. (HBO Max/Sky)

Set in the early Sixties, when television was still in its infancy, Julia is of the same era of George Clooney’s Goodnight, and Good Luck. It systematically unpacks the unconventional dynamic between Paul and Julia Child, giving both Lancashire and Hyde Pierce ample time to grow into their roles.

From the outset any vestiges of this actor are eradicated, only to be replaced with the distinctive tones of Julia with all her idiosyncrasies.

Read more: Everything you need to know about Julia

This transformation feels so seamless, that any audiences unfamiliar with Lancashire outside of the role might suspect her to be American. In comparison to the national institution which is Meryl Streep, who played Julia for Nora Ephron in 2009's Julie & Julia, there are some who may feel Lancashire does a better job.

As her partner in crime throughout this whole enterprise, Hyde Pierce also shows his quality, subtly supporting Lancashire at every turn as a former government diplomat, soulmate and confidant in crisis.

Watch the trailer for Julia

As home maker and erstwhile entertainment icon, there is also something to be said for Julia Child as a role model for gender equality. In early episodes Paul might embody the more traditional values of this era, which allow him to determine his partner’s future, but slowly that dynamic changes.

In the aftermath of her first television appearance, there is a real sense of burgeoning opportunity which comes through, as Child realises the full potential of television to fulfil her ambitions.

Read more: First look at Happy Valley series 3

With sitcom mainstay Bebe Neuwirth on best friend duties as Avis Devoto, while Brittany Bradford offers solidarity playing producer Alice Naman at the television studio, Julia is laced with an undercurrent of female empowerment.

Bebe Neuwirth and Sarah Lancashire in Julia (Sky/HBO Max)
Bebe Neuwirth and Sarah Lancashire in Julia. (Sky/HBO Max)

Only Fran Kranz’s studio executive Russ Morash stands in opposition to this changing dynamic, while Fiona Glascott’s publicist Judith Jones rounds out the ensemble and eventually wins him over. However, what really elevates Julia beyond those formidable performances is its creator Daniel Goldfarb, best known as a producer and writer for The Marvellous Mrs. Maisel.

This series has a similar level of period detail, alongside a multitude of foul mouthed one liners gifted to Lancashire on sparkling form. With a perpetual focus on the food through some indulgent framing techniques, Julia could also be considered food porn in a really grounded way. As Child waxes lyrical about the correct amounts of heat for an omelette, audiences are treated to close-ups featuring sizzling pans and opulently coated ingredients enticingly plated for consumption.

Brittany Bradford and Sarah Lancashire in Julia. (Sky/HBO Max)
Brittany Bradford and Sarah Lancashire in Julia. (Sky/HBO Max)

As the celebration of a cookery icon, Julia delivers yet another solid piece of entertainment from HBO. On every level this also looks like a guaranteed slam dunk for Sarah Lancashire, as she broadens her range and branches out into American homes. With a full immersion into this role her reputation as a masterful character actor has taken another step forward, aided by an unusual ally in the shape of America’s first lady of cookery.

This might not have the gravitas of HBO hallmarks like Mildred Pierce, which had the Oscar winning presence of Kate Winslet.

Portrait of American chef, author, cooking teacher, author, and tv host Julia Child (1912 - 2004) as she poses in her kitchen, Cambridge, Massachusetts, 1972. (Photo by Hans Namuth/Photo Researchers History/Getty Images)
Portrait of American chef, author, cooking teacher, author, and tv host Julia Child, 1972. (Hans Namuth/Photo Researchers History/Getty Images)

Nor does Julia have the alpha male chemistry of True Detective in its early seasons, but what this does deliver is polish and poise. It might not have the legacy of a golden age Hollywood icon like Joan Crawford silently condoning its creation, nor the perfect timing of a McConaissance to coincide with release, but nobody is perfect.

What Julia does and does very well is celebrate the average person, because that is what ultimately made this icon so popular. She was innately relatable in her disregard for television perfection. Faced with the reality of being completely nondescript in appearance, it was her wit and unchecked candour which made Child the perfect house guest in televisions across America for decades.

An approach which has made the likes of Noel Fielding and Matt Lucas household names for exactly the same reason.

Julia starts on Sky and NOW on Tuesday, 12 April.