‘The Village’

village

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.

11 Comments

  1. John R Cornwall
    Posted April 15, 2013 at 7:33 am | Permalink

    Aren’t the toffs always nasty and bad, George? Usually mad, too.

  2. Chris
    Posted April 15, 2013 at 8:51 am | Permalink

    I haven’t seen it, but it does seem like a fairly good example of how some media representation of the war in retrospect might facilitate the creation of new myths!

  3. Posted April 15, 2013 at 10:32 am | Permalink

    John –
    Some toffs were nasty and some were mad, but this lot don’t seem to have a decent one among them.
    Chris –
    I wish there were some new myths; these are the ones that have been current in TV representations of the War at least as far back as ‘Days of Hope’ back in 1975. But ‘Days of Hope’ had a much richer sense of history and community.

    • chris
      Posted April 16, 2013 at 12:07 pm | Permalink

      Yes indeed, it is maintaining them as well as ever I guess!

  4. Posted April 15, 2013 at 5:25 pm | Permalink

    Oddly enough, I thought Downton Abbey in its second series actually did a pretty good job of presenting the moral atmosphere of the war. There were soapy cliches galore, but the main characters (especially the toffs) seemed to maintain the conviction that the war, however terrible, was worth fighting all the same.

    • Posted April 15, 2013 at 5:29 pm | Permalink

      Though the way they squeezed in the ‘shot-at-dawn’ episode (and then forgot about it) was pretty risible.

      • Posted April 15, 2013 at 5:35 pm | Permalink

        Well, it wouldn’t be WWI-on-the-telly without some shell-shocked dupe being tied to a stake and shot, would it?

  5. Posted April 16, 2013 at 4:27 pm | Permalink

    I was thinking a bit more about this today. I guess there’s no chance we’re going to see how the war brought a massive improvement in the lives of ordinary people? WWI caused the largest single jump in life expectancy for men and women in the first half of the twentieth century. There was better preventative medical care, better nutrition. Deaths from childbirth fell as did infant mortality.

    One of the paradoxes of Britain’s warfare/welfare state in the early 20th century was that, so long as you weren’t actually killed, war was good for you. It’s an interesting paradox, and one that could be presented very well in a show such as this – but I suppose futility and suffering are all that the writers are interested in.

    • Posted April 16, 2013 at 5:05 pm | Permalink

      Another side-effect of war was that many women discovered new possibilities of employment and independence. Many left the constricting conditions of domestic service, for example, for factory work – equally hard, but for many more dignified. Something of this is shown in the play ‘The Accrington Pals’, on at Manchester recently.
      In ‘The Village’ the boot factory is shown as brutal slavery, run by men who don’t care about lactating mothers. Doubtless such places existed, but the misery, as usual, was not the whole people.
      The post-war slump seems to have done more to lower the nation’s morale than the War.

  6. Posted April 18, 2013 at 6:57 am | Permalink

    The latest news is that BBC Radio Four is going to run a soap based on the Home front during the War, five days a week for six months of each year from from 2014-2018.
    http://www.bbc.co.uk/mediacentre/latestnews/2013/homefront-drama-commission.html
    The Archers go to War?
    Another series. Tommy will follow a group of soldiers.

  7. Posted April 19, 2013 at 10:04 am | Permalink

    Thank you for your review. I must say that I completely agree with you and I found the series so far a disappointment.

    I was hoping for some realism but all I got was oppression of the working classes, there was very little hope. But perhaps that was the intention.

    It was almost as if it was deliberately Grim to counter-balance the success of Downton Abbey. Up North = Grim, Down South = Silver Spoon.

    A few years back I watched a Drama “1914- All Out” which I felt captured it better than anything else I had watched.


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