sun 23/09/2018

The Village, BBC One | reviews, news & interviews

The Village, BBC One

The Village, BBC One

Peter Moffat's long-form drama has a decent start

The Middletons at home on the farm in 1914 Derbyshire

Peter Moffat's latest project is a long-form drama reminiscent of Heimat (the Edgar Reitz project that told a German family's story through the 20th century) in which he charts 100 years of life in a Derbyshire village up to the present day. The first series started last night and its six episodes cover 1914-1920; the following series haven't yet been commissioned, but on the evidence of the opening chapter Moffat must be hopeful.

The story is told through the eyes of Bert Middleton (David Ryall), now the “second oldest man in Britain”, remembering his childhood. It starts with the summer of 1914, when he was 12 and “the bus first came to the village”. Moffat neatly captures the limits of many British lives before mass communication and affordable transport - “abroad” was going into the next parish and, as Bert told us, “Nobody had left the village in a hundred years.”

The bus brings the spirited Suffragette Martha (Charlie Murphy, pictured right) to the village, joining her Methodist preacher father and then the school as a teacher. Bert, on the verge of puberty (a situation told in well observed and amusing vignettes), falls instantly in love with her, but she has eyes only for his adored older brother Joe (Nico Mirallegro), who protects him from the wrath of their hard-drinking father, John (John Simm). John is unpopular in the village and has to bring in the harvest on his own as none of his neighbours will help him. His long-suffering wife, the aptly named Grace (Maxine Peake), keeps the peace at home and encourages her sons to seek a life beyond the confines of farm and village.

Joe works up at the “big house”, where Juliet Stevenson's Clem is the mater familias of the Allingham family who, like the Middletons, have lived here for generations. At different points in the drama, a member of each family states they “belong here”, one of the many rather obvious counterpoints Moffat uses in The Village - brutal father and kindly mother, the kindly teacher at Bert's school and his cane-at-the-ready colleague, the poor Middletons and the rich Allinghams. The last set-up, by the way, has led to some describing this as the BBC's answer to Downton Abbey. It's not, so let's not detain ourselves by discussing it further.

When war is declared Joe sees his chance to escape. We know the devastation to come (although not if Joe survives) and last night's final scene, in which old Bert clutched a picture of Joe and his pals waving goodbye as all the village's young men marched off to the slaughter of Flanders fields, was beautifully done, and enough to make you tune in next week to see how they fared.

There were some jarring notes - would Martha, Suffragette or no, really have been quite so informal with the Allinghams, people who at that time would be considered her betters? And, while the exact location of the village isn't given, the drama was filmed in the Peak District but none of the actors speaks with a Derbyshire drawl - instead it's meandering t'northern, while some actors don't bother with an accent at all.

Those caveats aside, The Village is very watchable - beautifully shot by director Antonia Bird, terrifically well acted, particularly by the young Bert, Bill Jones, able to convey all manner of emotions with his big, round eyes. Not Heimat level yet, but a decent start.

Young Bert, Bill Jones, is able to convey all manner of emotions with his big, round eyes


Editor Rating: 
Average: 3 (1 vote)

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