Apologies for the slight delay in posting this review. However, as is often the case with The Village, I’ve only just managed to pull myself out from the depths of misery and despair long enough to have the energy to type.
I’ve made no bones so far about the fact I find the show rather misery ridden, but this week took matters about seventeen steps further. Mary, the daughter of John (John Simm) and Grace’s (Maxine Peake) develops scarlet fever, a terrifying and life threatening disease at the time, especially for such a small child. Margaret (Annabelle Apsion), the mother of a soldier killed in battle receives unfair hostility from certain village members regarding her inability to accept the circumstances of her son’s death. Meanwhile John is, we suspect, wrongfully imprisoned for fatally injuring a cow when ‘borrowing’ medicine kept in the big house’s cowshed, leaving Assorted Buffery favourite, George (Augustus Prew) very upset about the cow, and Grace very upset about John. Understandably. All this whilst their young son Bert Bert (Bill Jones), paralysed with fear about elder brother Joe (Nico Mirallegro) 's fate in a rumoured battle, determines to win the annual village wheelbarrow race in a bizarre yet sweet attempt to somehow keep his brother safe.
None of these storylines, however, felt like contenders for the episode’s main focal point, as this accolade undoubtedly went to the plight of Caro Allingham (Emily Beecham). Having had her child taken away from her to protect the family reputation, poor Caro is now being treated for hysterics- that uniquely ‘female’ disease seen at the time as simply a combination of attention seeking, self- pity and a lack of appropriate response to male authority. Or that’s how her doctor, Doctor Wylie (Jonny Phillips) describes it, anyway. Making the family hand full authority over to him, Wylie decrees that Caro be bed bound, allowed to do nothing but simply lie there unless he says otherwise, forbidden from talking to anyone and being fed a mixture of veal and milk seven times a day, finishing all of it without fail. This results in a truly harrowing scene in which the distraught woman is force fed through a tube, with Wylie seeming to enjoy breaking her spirit just a little too much, particularly relishing informing the haplessly well-intentioned George that it was his poetry about his sister’s diet which revealed to the doctor that she had been talking to him.
This enjoyment seemed particularly, disturbingly apparent in what looked to be a scene of suggested rape, with Wylie seen locking the door and unbuckling his belt, whilst the broken Caro looked on in a terrifying, apathetic sort of fear. We do not know this for sure as yet, but given the echo in the episode’s other sexually brutal scenes involving Detective Bairstow (Joe Armstrong) – another male authority figure, and that this is The Village, a show where everything is every bit as nasty as it appears – it certainly seems likely.
The show’s commitment to a lack of sentimentality towards life in the time of its setting
is certainly to be admired, particularly as we live in a world in which we’re frequently encouraged to look back through the nostalgic lens of ‘things were better, back then’. Well no, says The Village, they weren’t. Young men were sent to war, we had fewer cures for diseases, families and older men had absolute authority over vulnerable young women and lower class people had to face the wall when passed in the street by one of their betters. Oh and there were a lot of grey skies and mud. Admirable, in concept though this is, it doesn’t half make for a bleak hour of television. I’m all for Naturalism, and think the show has taken a good deal of inspiration from the likes of Emile Zola, ‘Germinal’, in particular, however I’m no longer convinced that the relentless misery, without much of a let-up, ever, is especially realistic.
Surely things weren’t this bad, all the time back then? Perhaps they were, perhaps they weren’t. Either way, we’ll find out soon enough in the next episode.
The Village is next on tonight, BBC One, 9pm.