Saturday, 28 June 2014

New Worlds: Episode 1

"Young Americans like you must seize true liberty."

The Devil's Whore was superlative television. This... isn't, and it's obvious from the start. The cast doesn't sparkle anywhere near as much, there's a lack of unity between the scenes in England and Massachusetts, and the continuing political themes are handled a little more clunky; yes, pre-Glorious Revolution England was no beacon of liberty, but Charles II was not his father, and certainly not the miserable bastard we see here. There a reason why he's known as the Merry Monarch.

We begin in Massachusetts in 1680, a place of Puritan dogma, ethnic cleansing and republican sympathies which extend to harbouring Colonel William Goff, one of the few surviving regicides. Most jarring of all, though, to modern eyes, is the sight of Native American tribes in that long-settled part of New England; the Eastern Seaboard is the frontier. Here we meet Hope and Ned, two strangely RP-accented Americans about whom we are supposed to care, but don't. Indeed, even watching, as I did, with subtitles, it was well into the second episode before I got a clear idea of who the characters were. Characterisation is not this series' strong point.

Our first sight of England is bodies hanging from the Tower of London; lovely. Here we meet an older and much less charismatic Angelica Fanshawe, her grown-up daughter Beth, and her Roman Catholic husband who has been having rather a rough time of it since the so-called Popish Plot two years ago. Beth becomes curious about her father, Edward Sexby, now a conveniently dead legend for republicans and Whigs. Angelica is under pressure to sell her land to the King. This is all set-up and plot but mainly exposition,  with very little spectacle, character or thematic cleverness. The historical characters- James, Duke of York, the Earl of Shaftesbury and the "Protestant Duke"- are made to seem very dull.

William Goff, meanwhile, is on the run from the King's men. He symbolises the transfer of republican ideas from England to America, something dripping with dramatic irony as we know, as he does not, that the English Civil War will have an  American sequel a century hence in which a new republic will be born. Goff is not an unproblematic proto-American, though; shortly before his death he bemoans the ethnic cleansing of the Native Americans, the original sin of the United States. Anyway, he is killed, but not before rather predictably inspiring Ned.

Back in  England, Beth is kidnapped on her birthday by Abe, about whom we are also supposed to care. He awakens both her sexuality and her political conscience somewhat, but nothing really happens. The episode ends with nothing but set-up having happened and no real sense of where the series is going.

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