In recent years, Sunday evenings have become renowned as prime television real-estate for period dramas, with shows such as Downton Abbey and Call the Midwife providing the perfect end to the weekend in a wave of nostalgia and cups of tea. Over the past few weeks, however, the British public have been cruelly left to flounder without their weekly fix of high-brow scandals.
Step forward, The Crimson Field, one of a plethora of offerings which the BBC has specially commissioned as part of the First World War centenary celebrations. Set in a field hospital in northern France, the first episode reassured audiences that all of the period drama conventions we know and love (stiff upper lips, plummy accents and a trio of mismatched female protagonists with mysterious pasts) were present and correct.
Amidst all of these familiar motifs, however, there lies a distinct sense of the unconventional in this series. The BBC’s decision to focus on the roles of the female voluntary medical staff provides a novel perspective on the Great War, as does its efforts to candidly portray the realities of war, a subject which is all too often romanticised. The show can also be commended for not idealising all soldiers as heroic figures: the unsympathetic Colonel Purbright, more concerned with numbers than the wellbeing of his troops, depicted a flawed, more human side to the military which is often concealed behind battle statistics.
That said, the show frequently undermined its own grit with glossy inaccuracies. The nurses’ uniforms were always suspiciously clean, and it is highly unlikely that an entire legion of men would march off to the front without even a rucksack.
Nevertheless, The Crimson Field is for the most part an engaging and refreshingly honest account of what went on behind the scenes during the First World War, and a welcome addition to Sunday night television.
The Crimson Field is on BBC One, Sundays at 9pm.