fri 16/04/2021

New Worlds, Channel 4 | reviews, news & interviews

New Worlds, Channel 4

New Worlds, Channel 4

Restoration drama looks good but tests credibility

It's a revolutionary road for Beth (Freya Mavor) and Abe (Jamie Dornan)

It's been six years since Peter Flannery's lurid Civil War series The Devil's Whore, which ended shortly after the death of Oliver Cromwell. This sequel, co-written by Flannery and Martine Brant, speeds us forward to 1680, which means Charles II is on the throne and, in between attending bawdy Restoration plays, is hell-bent on tracking down the people who executed his father.

It's been six years since Peter Flannery's lurid Civil War series The Devil's Whore, which ended shortly after the death of Oliver Cromwell. This sequel, co-written by Flannery and Martine Brant, speeds us forward to 1680, which means Charles II is on the throne and, in between attending bawdy Restoration plays, is hell-bent on tracking down the people who executed his father.

To avoid getting stuck in any kind of rut, however, the writers have introduced a transatlantic dimension to the story. We catch up with Angelica Fanshawe, heroine of the first series (she was played by Andrea Riseborough then, but has now matured into Eve Best, pictured below, who lives in her own aristocratic commune of closet republicans in Oxfordshire). Meanwhile there's a parallel narrative set in Hadley, Massachusetts, where Puritan settlers are trying to carve out a new life in the New World. This isn't proving so easy, as we saw in the opening sequence where the immigrants had to fight off a ferocious Last of the Mohicans-style onslaught by the local indians, or, if you must, Native Americans.

However, even in the Colonies there's no escape from the long arm of the restored English Sovereign, and the king's men have been especially keen to track down William Goffe, one of the "regicides" directly involved in the trial and execution of Charles I. Goffe's participation was relatively brief - after blowing his cover to help fight off the indian attack, he took a dive off a cliff-top rather than face trial for treason - but his influence is set to linger on through his son Abe (Jamie Dornan).

Which brings us back to Oxfordshire, where Abe is living in Wightham Woods with his little band of outlaws. A sublimely fanciful chain of events, including the pursuit of a wounded deer and the arrival of the Duke of Monmouth with a troupe of travelling players, led to Abe and Angelica's daughter Beth (Freya Mavor) getting frisky in the undergrowth. Not only that, but Abe was able to inculcate a none-too-authentic spirit of anti-capitalist protest in Beth's heaving breast, merely by showing her a straggling queue of downtrodden workers from the local clay pits. In an instant, Beth had dedicated herself to a life of revolutionary struggle, and from here on it looks like being the saga of the evil and repressive monarch trying to crush the righteous democratic urges of the populace (settlers experience hostility in the New World, pictured below).

Which is a shame, because the piece boasts a powerful cast and some superb cinematography (though I was dubious about the imagery of women in virginal white dresses soaked in blood), managing to cloak even fairly mundane scenes with a sense of momentous events unfolding. But the historical setting is so rich with complexities and conflicts that turning it into a right-versus-wrong drama viewed down the wrong end of history's telescope hasn't a hope of doing it justice. After all, at the time, the Restoration was hailed by many as a welcome return to the natural order, but here it looks more like a takeover by the Waffen SS, especially with Judge Jeffreys (Pip Carter) being lined up to do his worst. I suppose you could say it was inspired by a true story, but it doesn't look much like one.

Even in the Colonies there's no escape from the long arm of the restored English Sovereign

rating

Editor Rating: 
3
Average: 3 (1 vote)

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