With a name conjuring images of a sleepy pastoral idyll, of bales of hay, larking about and warm lager in the sun, coupled with its Easter Sunday evening slot, it would be easy, obvious, even, to assume that The Village, starring John Simm, is family friendly, uplifting viewing.
But cosy fireside drama it is not, as those of you who also watched it will be painfully aware.
The drama centres around Bert Middleton, a man who, in his later years, becomes the second oldest man in Britain. Through him, we’re transported back to his memories of a post First World War Peak District village. Bert is the younger son of Grace and John Middleton (Maxine Peake, John Simm), and the kid brother of Joe (Nico Mirallegro). Simm’s John the farmer spends his days running a rapidly failing farm, whilst trying to maintain a sort of desperate control over his family life through a combination of heavy handedness, alcoholism and downright cruelty. This is all set against the bitterly contrasting backdrop of ‘the big house’, resided in by the aristocratic Allingham family, a home in which domestic servants are expected to face the wall when their master enters a room.
In Episode 1, we are introduced to our companions on this journey through village life, and given a glimpse into how tough life was for people with very little freedom, those without a hope in hell of anything remotely resembling a prospect, let alone an ambition. With the arrival of the very first bus, however, things take a turn for the better, as along comes the beautiful, modern thinking token suffragette Martha Lane (Charlie Murphy), with whom both of the Middleton boys fall head over heels in love. Later, the onset of war causes many male village residents, including Joe, to consider what they want from their own freedom, and with that whether or not to sign up and become a soldier.
So far, so period drama. A sentence I seem to be writing a lot lately. Mostly, I assume, because there are so many blooming period dramas on these days. You can’t move for the things. That or I just insist upon watching all of them. The trend of late, however, seems to be along the lines of period dramas with a difference, period dramas with their own little, personal twist. A turn of phrase I already regret given the nature of much of The Village, episode one. I wasn’t entirely sure at certain points that I hadn’t got confused and accidentally flicked on an adaptation of Spring Awakening. Watching a twelve year old boy experiencing, er, sexual experimentation, should we say, for the first time after spying on the local women at the bathing house wasn’t quite how I had expected to spend my evening. And that’s without even considering the gruff lovemaking of Grace and John we overhear, or Joe’s little dalliance with Caro Allingham (Emily Beecham) in the local woods. A location otherwise known as the most over-used sexually symbolic location since Beowulf. Or thereabouts. It was like watching the lovechild of Downtown Abbey and Game of Thrones, only with Northern accents and a spot of moorland.
Tiny complaint raised, and in all honesty only raised as I can only imagine how many viewers watching en famille were caught out by it*, the show itself seems set to be really rather good. Simm is excellent as the troubled farmer and family patriarch. Peake is perfect as the downtrodden Grace, and Juliet Stevenson is fabulously frosty as Lady of the manor Lady Clem Altringham. Poignant, powerful, well scripted and well-acted, The Village could well succeed where Ripper Street recently failed, in that, hurtling via memory through the century as it is, teaching us lessons about our country’s history along the way, it is that rare thing – a period drama with a point.
The Village is next on Sunday http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p0162blq/episodes/guide 9pm, BBC One.
*admittedly there was a little ‘scenes of a sexual nature’ warning at the start of the show, but with the Beeb you normally expect that to mean that somebody says ‘arse’ a couple of times under their breath, or that you might accidentally catch the occasional glimpse of a gentlewoman’s petticoats through a combination of several dusty mirrors and a trick of the light.
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