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Wednesday, 8 May 2013

Television Review: The Village

The Village aims to tell the story of a single village throughout the twentieth century. This first series covers on the years 1914-1920 and we focus on the Middleton family - John (John Simm), Grace (Maxine Peake) and their sons, Joe (Nico Mirallegro) and Bert (Bill Jones). Other villagers of importance include the rich Allingham family, vicar's daughter Martha Lane (Charlie Murphy) and schoolteacher Gerard Eyre (Matt Stokoe).

One of main criticisms of this programme is that it is unfailingly grim. In the course of six episodes we had the outbreak of war, shell-shock, alleged desertion, rape by a doctor, suicide, mutilated cows, sick babies, dead children and Spanish flu. Those are only the ones I can remember off the top of my head. However, despite the dreariness, it's difficult to stop watching because it's so brilliantly acted. Maxine Peake has already established herself as one of Britain's most versatile actresses and her performance as Grace merely reiterates that. John Simm is excellent as John, an alcoholic who finds God but is still incredibly difficult to like. Bill Jones deserves praise as young Bert while Nico Mirallegro was heartbreaking in some of his final scenes as Joe. Equally the rest of the cast worked well, especially Juliet Stevenson as Clem Allingham and Augustus Prew as George Allingham.

One aspect of the series irritated me, however. The first five episodes take place over the course of two years but between the fifth and the sixth episode there is a four year jump. This was probably for continuity reasons (they wanted to introduce the next incarnation of Bert before the second series) but it jarred incredibly for me. All the emotion at the end of episode five was left unresolved and, frankly, I think we needed an episode just afterwards to deal with some of that. The cast were certainly up to it so why not? My guess is that apart from the Bert issue they wanted to resolve the war in the first series. Nevertheless, I did get the sensation while watching the sixth episode that I was viewing the first episode of the second series - the viewer was trying to catch-up far too much and scenes which would have been interesting to see (George's successful wooing of Martha, for instance) were ignored. For me, the series lost a little emotional resonance due to this choice.

Will I watch series two? Yes, because I'm invested in a few characters and occasionally there is a scene of absolute brilliance. However, I know several people who have had enough of the bleak atmosphere. I can't say I blame them but this is probably more historically accurate than most programmes set in this era. Finally, it's worth noting that the use of the Peak District scenery is excellent and the score for the series is beautiful. From the opening strains over the first episode I knew I'd carry on watching for the music alone.

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