Rebel with a cause?
What are the main targets this time? It’s a lot to pack in to one hour.
1. Self inflicted wounds, therefore potential death sentence for cowardice; “Our feelings will do him no good at all – not now”;
2. The ‘Irish problem’. Sergeant complains about “hot heads rebelling against the British crown”; young man seen stoking rebellion at the field hospital – “He’s not the king of my fucking country” – thwack! on the nose;
3. Belgian refugees; this one provides the means for Joan Livesey to write to her German lover; which leads us to…
4. Having a pre-war relationship with the enemy;
5. a) Lust and b) class, not necessarily together but recurring themes in every episode so far;
6. Experimental surgery – the rebellious young doctor of the wrong class trying new techniques;
7. Men being brutalised by war, yukky necklace of chopped off ears worn by one soldier;
8. Homosexuality – men disappearing off into the woods AND *revelation of the week* – the prissy nurse has a gay brother;
Cliche count: off the scale, good thing there isn’t a drinking penalty attached to this.
Irish stand off: one loyal to the crown, the other decidedly not.
An injured officer is visited by his shocked wife.
Episode two of The Crimson Field takes the characters into darker territory. There’s an assault planned and ‘200 incoming’ expected (couldn’t help thinking of MASH here). Everyone, patients, nurses and family, is tested and their weaknesses exposed. As is usual with Sunday evening dramas, there is a high level of sentimentality, slushy music and cliched dialogue, but I find I am warming more to the story now and I am thinking more about how today’s audience are being considered in the storytelling. One of my friends told me that her two daughters, aged 16 and 17, were completely gripped by the story and had asked lots of questions afterwards. That seems to me to be a good outcome for any TV programme but especially for one that focuses on WWI. This is a good opportunity to think deeply about the memorialisation of the conflict and perhaps to reconsider our preconceptions. However I don’t think this is the motive behind the series, which could (so far anyway) be about one of many catastrophic events in history and is unlikely to be shining any new lights on our thinking about 1914-18.
This week, we learned a little more of why Kitty might have run away from home (whatever she did, she has a child in England and has managed to alienate her mother to the point be being disowned by her). Rosalie can’t get over her disgust of bodies: at home she has helped at a home for fallen women that sounds rather like a Magdalene laundry; Rosalie’s Victorian streak is ripe for exploitation by sly Sister Quayle; this appears to be the baddie element. Flora is a bit ditzy but is clearly going to step up to become a fine upstanding example of British nursing.
The framing of social history is undeniably clunky: a seriously injured officer (Rupert Graves) is visited by his beautifully-presented wife (Jodhi May). As well as struggling to come to terms with his injuries, she can’t understand the deep bond he has built with his only remaining corporal. At the same time she coolly responds to a West Indian father who is visiting his fatally injured son. Both are reasonable reactions for the time given the extent of her husband’s injuries and her class. However her apparent moving towards an understanding of the grieving father’s situation is unrealistic and is no doubt meant to stand in for the social change that WWI brought about; unfortunately it’s too simplistic to provide genuine insight. It would be a shame if all the interesting changes wrought by the Great War are dealt with with in this vignette style.
Anyway episode three beckons so maybe things will improve. Apologies for the lateness of the post on episode two, I’ve been away at a terrific conference on WWI film.
It was an interesting start to this BBC 1 series: it’s 1914, a young English nurse stands on board a boat going to France, she drops her wedding ring over the side and it sinks into the sea. Presumably this device signifies the character casting off her past in terms that today’s TV audience (especially younger women) will understand. But is it appropriate or historically accurate? And does it matter (hell yes, in my eyes). I heard a discussion about this very scene on Radio 4’s Front Row last week – would any nurse have gone into this conflict as an act of rebellion? Was it not more likely that women volunteered for overseas duties in the spirit of making a serious contribution to the war effort?
Three novice VADs as depicted in The Crimson Field. Marianne Oldham, Oona Chaplin and Alice St Clair.
A ‘film of the book’ doesn’t have to faithfully reproduce what’s between the pages, so does HALF OF A YELLOW SUN give a fresh perspective on the nightmare of the Nigerian civil war?
Director Biyi Bandele’s first feature HALF OF A YELLOW SUN is an ambitious attempt to dramatise the 2007 Orange Prize-winning novel by Nigerian-born writer Chimamanda Ngozi Adiche, which explores the complexities of several key relationships played out before and during the Nigeria-Biafra Civil War in the late 1960s. The obvious difficulty with adapting a book as complex (and as well-loved) as Half Of A Yellow Sun is what to leave in and what to ditch. Biyi Bandele’s screenplay unfortunately cuts away too much detail and reframes the story into a chronological narrative concerning the loves of two women rather than adopting Adiche’s much richer technique of weaving Nigerian history and politics into the developing relationships between three people – a professional Nigerian woman, an English academic and a 13-year-old village boy. As a result, it’s difficult to identify with the people on screen, to understand their motivations, or how they fit into the national picture, even why we should care about them.