In my review of last week’s The Village, I remarked, at length, upon the darkness of the series, and that it certainly didn’t seem set to be a ‘cosy fireside drama’. And judging by this week’s episode, it isn’t about to get any brighter.
Since Joe’s departure for the front line, things have only really gone from bad to worse for the Middleton family. Grace (Maxine Peake) has another baby on the way- meaning another mouth they cannot afford to feed. Meanwhile John (John Simm) relies on alcohol more than ever, and Bert is in perpetual trouble at school, receiving regular corporal punishment from a teacher with not such much a chip on his shoulder as a big gaping hole. For a change, things aren’t actually much better up at the big house, either. Already struggling to keep their reputation in tact during wartime, Lady Clem is devastated to discover daughter Caro is pregnant by a mystery man, quickly crying foul play and laying the blame at the Middleton door. This is to have potentially devastating consequences for him and his family, due to an apparent previous conviction. Caro isn’t having a great time with all of this either, still grieving and confused over the torture and murder of her dog, Baby the dachshund.
So reasonably bleak, then. It wasn’t all bad news though. At the end Grace gave birth and John bought a cow...Also on the plus side, there were some moving performances throughout, particularly from John Simm, who captures well the essence of a man constantly finding himself in terrible circumstances without any understanding of what he could possibly have done to deserve them. Maxine Peake is brilliant as the much put upon Grace, lurching between sadness and a desperate desire to keep her family in one piece. Her reaction to John’s *spoiler alert* suicide attempt was genuinely affecting. Young Bert Middleton (Bill Jones) is coming along a treat as well, particularly in his relationships with both the other boys at school and with his tyrannical teacher. Juliet Stevenson is great as the haughty Clem Allingham, but I think that one’s sort of a given.
In fact all of the characters seem to be developing well as we find out more about them, and as we settle in to this depiction of village life. We’re learning more and more about how things worked in that time week by week, and as a result it is actually becoming progressively more uncomfortable to watch the villagers have to turn and face the wall when the Lord and Lady arrive/do anything/are spotted half a mile away sneezing delicately into a handkerchief, because know they're no better than the rest of them. The only character writer Peter Moffat (I don’t know if there’s any relation) doesn’t seem to know what to do with, is Martha Lane (Charlie Murphy). He clearly wanted her to fill the shoes of educated feisty suffragette, and there is a good deal of potential for her to be exactly that, but it isn’t going to work out so well if she carries on storming into places, making a couple of half-arsed speeches, then storming out again in a sulk two minutes later when it becomes clear that no one actually gives a monkey’s.
Nevertheless, this is shaping up to be a strong series, dealing with the passing of time in a compact and not all that confusing way. Which can be rare. I just can’t help but wish something nice would happen to someone. Just once. Like maybe they get a free sponge cake or something, or go for a nice walk. Anything.
I’ll let you know- but I don’t think I’ll be holding my breath.
The Village is next on tonight, BBC One, 9pm.
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