A big old ship sailed into Sky 1 on Friday night. It was the launch of their big new eight part drama series with the much promoted tagline “By the makers of “Downton Abbey””. I don’t watch a great deal on Sky 1. Since football comedy “The Rovers” which I enjoyed it’s just the rebooted “Hawaii 5-0” that makes it into my planner, but I thought I would give this a go.
It’s 1619 and the men sent to colonise Virginia have been there for twelve years. Now the ship is bringing them in women, known as “maids to make wives”. With one exception, the men and women have never met, yet deals have been struck and they have already been paired off. It’s a good premise. It had the slight feel of the Jimmy McGovern penned Australian-convicts- on- the beach BBC2 series “Banished” from last year, but this doesn’t star Russell Tovey and is probably going to be less edgy and grim.
The Women Of Jamestown – Jocelyn, Verity and Alice
“Jamestown” seems as if it will focus on three of the betrothed women who have survived the journey to meet their men. Alice (Sophie Rundle) thinks she has lucked out when she sees the man waiting for her, only to discover that it is the brother of the man and that she is really betrothed to a churlish Henry (Max Beesley) who wants a quick return on his investment and rapes her whilst she is out walking on the first night. We can all tell that his brother Silas (Stuart Martin) is a much better bet. Alice’s good friend Verity (Niamh Walsh) has a bit of trouble finding her man until she discovers he is the one with his ear nailed to the stocks for blasphemy (watch out Stephen Fry!). Meredith (played by Dean Lennox-Kelly) is a drunk and is soon gambling using Verity as stake. Perhaps the most interesting of the female characters is the one with the back-story, a woman who tells Alice before they dock that she had to leave England as a man had been killed and who has already met her beau, the company recorder, Samuel. This is Jocelyn (Naomi Battrick) who in the first episode looks like she is being set up as the Alexis Carrington of the piece as she schemes and manipulates to get her own way and to ensure her survival and that the man she has been paired with will prosper in this new community.
Jamestown itself was the first permanent English colony in America with its existence pre-dating the Pilgrim Fathers. The programme makers have chosen to relocate this in Hungary as the series has been filmed near Budapest. It is written and created by Bill Gallagher, who has previously worked on those comforting historical dramas “Lark Rise To Candleford” and “The Paradise”. The first episode was directed by John Alexander, a man with historical pieces “Indian Summers” and “Sense And Sensibility” among his many television credits.
The most striking thing about the series was how lovely it looked. Colours are quite vivid, making the sea (when calm) a vivid shade of blue. True, there is no doubt going to be a lot of mud, but this New World has a clearness and lushness which just might keep a few viewers along for the ride just to wallow in the scenery. Also in the cast there are some good old reliables such as Burn Gorman (“Torchwood”/”The Hour”) Jason Flemyng (“Lock Stock And Two Smoking Barrels”/”Primeval”) and Shaun Dooley (“Broadchurch/”Cuffs”). In this first episode they were all rather upstaged by the dim but devoted domestic help, Mercy (Patsy Ferran), who judging by her non-appearance on the IMDB cast list might not play much of a future role in the series. (Surely IMDB cannot make a mistake?) If this is so, then this is a shame because it was played with the making-the-most-of-a-minor domestic role which spans way back to Ruby from the original “Upstairs Downstairs” and includes Daisy from “Downton Abbey” (By the makers of Jamestown). I couldn’t help but wonder, as Mercy was already there when the boatload of women arrived why she wasn’t the most popular girl in the town and already shacked up with one of the better looking men. But then, that’s seventeenth century class differences, I suppose.
The jury is still out if I’m going to last the distance with “Jamestown”. I’ve already got one historical drama on the go, the cup-runneth-over “Harlots”, which is a mass of tightly contained heaving bosoms in a series which is actually beginning to win me over with its tale of eighteenth century London rival brothels, shunted for some reason onto ITV Encore ( a channel I don’t think I’ve ever watched before). To keep the Downton connection going to the very end this features the ill-fated Lady Sybil (Jessica Brown Findlay) as the highly-esteemed Charlotte the harlot, currently making out with a much more downmarket Irishman than the chauffeur she elevated from downstairs in “Downton”. All in all, I’ve decided I’m going to be paying a visit to Jamestown for the next episode at least. There’s plenty of dramatic potential in the characters and the scenery is gorgeous. Whether the makers have another Downton on their hands I’m less convinced.
Jamestown is on Friday nights at 9pm on Sky 1. The first episode is available to watch on Sky catch-up platforms.