The BBC’s latest drama The Village delivers a touching story of Bert (Bill Jones), a young boy struggling with the hardships of life in a small village during the outbreak of the First World War. The six part series spanning 1914-1920 introduces a number of characters, from a burgeoning suffragette to a young man about to face the horrors of life at the frontline of war.
Nothing about The Village glamorises this much-visited area of history: gone are the lavish costumes and fairytale romances that are so often found in our most popular period dramas. They are instead replaced with the cold truths of life with little money, the death of loved ones and the ever present threat of war. No-one could say The Village is lacking in plotlines, which range from domestic abuse to sexual scandal, and even a murder-mystery about a cow thrown in for good measure, yet to me The Village seems unsure of its purpose. At times it perfectly shows the bitter realities of the past, but then moves immediately into unrealistic scenes in which an upper class young lady, Caro, finds herself getting down and dirty in the bracken with one of her servants.
Despite this, there are impressive aspects of The Village that should be acknowledged. John Simm (Life on Mars) is outstanding as John Middleton, the abusive father who we simultaneously hate and pity as he tries to provide for his family and is driven to drink by his lack of ability to do so. Bert is a real cheeky chappy, who brings the only humour to an otherwise miserable narrative. As viewers, however, we feel most emotionally connected to Bert’s mother, Grace (Maxine Peake, Dinner Ladies, Shameless) who is burdened in every way but remains full of love for the entirely wretched community.
The cinematography of The Village is also of epic quality, largely due to the beautiful setting of the Derbyshire countryside and the sweeping shots of the village that manage to easily encompass its beauty.
In my mind though, The Village makes for a very long hour of television and there is little relief from the seemingly-perpetual scenes of misery. Finding out that director, Peter Moffat was planning to go through one hundred years in subsequent series made me groan with a despair not dissimilar to the groans of his characters in the midst of death.
Nevertheless, this rather gloomy attempt at a new historical drama will no doubt do little to dampen the spirits of increasing number of enthusiasts of the genre. We continue to be intrigued by the historical dramas that are on every one of our channels, from the new ITV comedy Plebs, to popular American shows like Mad Men and Game of Thrones. These transporting dramas provide us with the escapism, the spectacle, intrigue and scandal that is frequently missing from a world void even of mundane office jobs.
words: Caitlin Williams