Gambling never pays in period dramas

Period dramas on TV have always been popular; just look at the huge ratings programmes like Downton Abbey, Gentleman Jack, and the numerous Jane Austen novels tend to get.

In this article, however, we look at period dramas that feature hapless gamblers who lose everything from their family fortune to their country estates. Unfortunately, they never seem to be like sensible gamblers (they do exist), who always limit the size of their bets to suit the circumstances.

In most dramas, the gambler is shown as compulsive, willing to risk it all – and usually losing. But in reality, most people who like to gamble today apply strict bankroll management strategies so they never lose everything. Nevertheless, responsible gamblers are always prepared for losing or winning… unlike this period dramas selection.


The Old Curiosity Shop

Nell Trent, 13, lives in a run-down London antique shop with her ill grandfather (Sebastian Shaw), unaware that he has a devastating gambling habit that has left them practically bankrupt. Nell’s grandfather has been taking out loans under false pretences from Daniel Quilp, a disfigured and cruel local businessman with dishonourable intents towards Little Nell, to fund his addiction.

When Quilp realises where his money has gone, he demands it be returned, along with Nell. Little Nell and her grandfather flee, desperate and impoverished, travelling the countryside in a frenzied bid to keep one step ahead of Quilp in a tragic and harrowing adventure.


A Hazard of Hearts

This drama is set around the exploits of compulsive gambler Sir Giles Staverley and his ultimate downfall when he loses all his money and his entire estate by playing games of dice. Then he realises he has only one valuable asset left: his daughter, Serena. In his last game, he bets Serena’s hand in marriage, certain that he will not lose this time.

Unfortunately, the malevolent Lord Wrotham, played by Edward Fox, defeats him. Sir Giles commits suicide because he is unable to come home and inform his daughter that he has lost her in a game of dice. Lord Vulcan, who has observed the events, feels sorry for Serena Staverley, despite the fact that they’ve not met.

Lord Vulcan challenges Wrotham to a game of dice, with the prize-winner receiving both Staverley Court and Miss Serena. Lord Vulcan triumphs and, content with having spared someone from the evil Wrotham, forget about the occurrence. However, one evening, Vulcan’s buddy Lord Peter Gillingham insists on them travelling to Staverley Court to see Vulcan’s “gift.” When Vulcan arrives, Serena Staverley is more gorgeous than he could have dreamed.


The Gambling Man

In this Catherine Cookson novel adapted for TV, we see Robson Green playing Rory Connor, who was a gambler down on his luck. His mother had known since the day he was born that Rory was the one to accomplish something in his life. He began working odd jobs at the age of seven; by fourteen, he was working full-time.

By the time he escaped from the factory to work as a rent collector. At the age of 23, his desire was at its peak, and he was always looking for bigger, better games to play. He was scared of nothing and no one, not even the shady landlord for whom he collected rent. He was doing well for an ordinary working guy till one day, his luck changed, and things did not run as well as he was used to.


The Queen of Spades

Based on Pushkin’s short novel, this is an atmospheric suspense thriller. Anton Walbrook plays a Russian army captain who secretly desires his fellow officers’ wealth and rank and becomes fixated with mastering the mysteries of the card game Faro. When he learns that the elderly Countess Ranevskaya has made a deal with the devil to obtain the knowledge he seeks, he worms his way into her household and tries everything he can to obtain it – but the price is greater than he could have anticipated.


Gambling themes in films and TV shows are becoming increasingly popular with viewers, but as you can see from the selection of period dramas we have looked at in this article, the hapless gamblers never seem to win.

Savvy gamblers, however, seem to have ditched the all-or-nothing culture that we hear so much about and are playing it safe more often with bankroll management strategies. This entails having a set amount aside for gambling purposes – and only ever bet a max of 5% at any time. Sticking with 5% and increasing or decreasing stakes as your bankroll rises or falls is the way to go. Probably something more of us should consider, don’t you think?