I wanted to like the new BBC drama series, The Village, but tonight’s third episode was a sign of opportunities missed.
It’s 1916. Women anxiously read the casualty lists and men receive all-up papers. Soldiers go round the farms requisitioning horses. The local factory-owner is going to make a lot of money from boots.
Fair enough, but must the writer labour so hard to make sure we realise that war is a terrible thing? The only characters in favour of fighting the War are the mindless brutes and bullies. All the nice characters are against the War. Joe, who went off optimistic in the first episode, has come back ravaged by what he has seen. Nobody shows any sense of why Britain is at war; it’s all futility and pointless suffering, so that grim rural life gets even grimmer.
The nice schoolmaster is, of course, a conscientious objector. And he is a kind of person who existed only rarely in 1916, a lone objector with no supportive community. In real life, those who claimed exemption on the grounds of their beliefs, challenging the consensus of the time, almost always came from religious or political groupings who gave them backing or confidence. The Quakers, the Christadelphians, the Socialists. This schoolmaster has only his own woolly opinions; when he goes before a tribunal, he answers back rather arrogantly, though not really prepared for the obvious questions. Where did his objections come from? From the author’s own set of opinions, I suppose – as did that implausible sermon in episode two.
Meanwhile the toffs up at the big house all seem to be nasty or mad. Exemption from military service is easily wangled for the son. It’s the poor who are forced to suffer.
Maybe future weeks will give us a fuller sense of what the War meant to Britain. I’m none too hopeful, though.