Jamestown – Sky 1 (2017) – A What I’ve Been Watching Review

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Jamestown Colony

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.

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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.

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Jamestown is on Friday nights at 9pm on Sky 1.  The first episode is available to watch on Sky catch-up platforms.

The Level (ITV 2016) – A What I’ve Been Watching Review

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I’m quite selective with ITV crime dramas.  If there are three episodes or less I tend not to bother and the longer series have to have something which really grabs me right from the start.  There were two things which drew me to watch this first episode of this six parter.  The series is  written by Gaby Chiappe who has considerable writing credits to her name including the screenplay for the 2016  Gemma Arterton starring film “Their Finest” but also for episodes of “Eastenders”, “Vera”, “Shetland”, “The Paradise” and “Lark Rise To Candleford” amongst others together with Alexander Perrin, who previously worked with Chiappe on “Shetland”).  It is directed by Andy Goddard. The two things which got me watching  were the casting and the location.

Rob James-Collier and Lindsey Coulson

The biggest draw for the Downton-starved ITV audience would likely be Rob James-Collier who has hung up Thomas’ butler costume for good and here plays organised crime officer Kevin O’Dowd.  It’s always good to see him on the screen and Eastenders viewers would have appreciated the appearance of Lindsey Coulson (Carol Jackson) now sporting dark hair and in charge of the murder investigation which is central to the plot.  Also in the cast were such very watchable performers as Amanda Burton (probably best known for Silent Witness), Noel Clarke (best known for Dr Who) and a turn from Philip Glenister which was so short that it suggests that a considerable amount of this tale will be back story.

Downton meets Eastenders

The central character, however, was DS Nancy Devlin.  This is a female led crime drama and ITV have come up with the goods so many times here with these –from the what seemed like pioneering at the time “The Gentle Touch” to “Prime Suspect” to modern day “Vera” and “Scott and Bailey”.  Devlin is played by Karla Crome who I did not think I was familiar with but, apart from E4’s “Misfits” which I did not watch, I found I knew her, but did not recognise her from her turn as Science teacher Rebecca Pine in Season 2 of the American TV adaptation of Steven King’s “Under The Dome”.  Let’s hope that “The Level” does not deteriorate into unintelligible nonsense which eventually stopped me watching that series!

 From Under The Dome To The Level – Karla Crome

At the start we see DS Devlin being presented with a bravery award after saving Rob James Collier’s life.  He has his leg in a cast and it’s not long before that leg becomes an amusing obstacle in them getting it together back at her place.  The whole thing is interrupted by a phone call and we realise how important it is because there’s not many that would up and leave Rob James Collier in the early throes of passion and it’s not long before we discover that DS Devlin is up to her neck in something unpalatable.  A meeting sees her implicated in a murder investigation which she is then seconded to help solve.  I can’t help but feel that the misery is going to be piled upon her character as the team begin to move in to discover her involvement.  We’ve not finished with Rob’s character as he was there, minus plaster cast and crutches (how long had she been away I thought it was only a couple of days?) also seconded to the case as it looks like the murder could have links to organised crime, although no-one yet knows how close those links to that department actually are.

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I said there were two reasons I chose this.  The second – the Brighton location.  I like to see my old stomping ground on television.  There was a time when it was always depicted as rather grimy and seedy (if they get round to filming Peter James’ books- which I do not really want them to do- then we will get that Brighton back) but beginning with the  2015 BBC show “Cuffs” (cancelled after one series but which I really liked) we have got a glossy, shiny Brighton, which looked good and this was certainly the case with “The Level”.  What we also had here in this first episode was a disturbingly empty Brighton – apart from the fleeting appearance of passing hen and stag night groups there was no-one around. There were a couple of nicely framed shots of sea-front shelters, which looked impressive and which formed meeting places between Devlin and her old school friend Hayley and views out to sea and of the Brighton Wheel (which has materialised since I moved away) but there was no-one around.  It wasn’t the busy- at-any- time- of the- day –or- night Brighton I remembered but it certainly looked lovely.

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The plot of the first episode pulled me in enough to make me want to watch the next episodes and with another five to go there is surely going to be plenty of intrigue and plot twists and I think poor old DS Nancy Devlin is going to continue having a bad time.  She is already nursing a secret gunshot wound.  (Why do I always wince when anyone pulls back a dressing to reveal a wound on TV yet can be unmoved by far more horrible sights?).  This Friday night show might make up for the fact that after three episodes the much anticipated 6th season of “American Horror Story” over on Fox an hour later might disappointingly just be going nowhere…………….

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The Level began on Friday 30th September at 9.00pm.  The first episode is available on ITV catch-up services