The Crimson Field episode 2. 13 April 2014

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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.

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