The Crimson Field Episode 6, the finale

The Crimson Field has reached its end.

Did all those storylines get tidied up? No, even more themes are introduced: the brother of one of the orderlies is admitted with a self-inflicted burn. It’s not enough for a ‘Blighty one’ so the orderly breaks the lad’s leg with his bare hands. Nasty.

Who falls for whom? Joan and Anton meet again, he’s arrested, then proposes to her; it can’t work out well. Tom hears the truth about Kitty’s past, he’s not phased. They snog.

Rosalie has become a real nurse.

Who dies? Nice Roland’s soldier son, that’s who.

How many boxes of tissues were needed? None here but forests-full elsewhere no doubt.

Will there be a series two? (Think bears and forest here). Sister Quayle (with her shiny new Red Cross medal)  is going to continue being the bane of Matron’s life in the next series with her scheming and cake stealing; Roland may or may not stay in charge of the hospital; young Flora is starting to grow up. With three years of the war left (it’s October 1915), there is the possibility of several more series.

Pantomime baddie Sister Quayle will continue to cause problems for Matron Carter.

Pantomime baddie Sister Quayle will continue to cause problems for Matron Carter.

The major theme for the final episode is Joan’s crime of ‘consorting with the enemy’. The tagline for this show is ‘The hospital is thrown into disarray’ when an enquiry panel is hastily convened to decide whether she should be court martialled. Actually the ‘disarray’ is quite tame. But there’s a useful sentence or two about the hardships endured by Germans in Britain especially after the Lusitania was sunk in May 1915. I believe it was immensely difficult to speak up for the accused against military law as it stood in these cases. I’ve just read William Broderick’s gripping novel A Whispered Name, which deals with courts martial and seems to me to be a well-considered examination of the ordeal. So I don’t know how realistic this scene is (someone will hopefully enlighten me), but given the previous gaffs in the series, I’d like someone to verify.

I must just re-iterate how quiet it is on the Front! Will I be back for more? Maybe….

Sweet natured Colonel Brett rushes to defend Sister Joan Livesey as she is accused of aiding the enemy.

Sweet natured Colonel Brett rushes to defend Sister Joan Livesey as she is accused of aiding the enemy.


I thought I’d end this blog series with a selection of press reviews of The Crimson Field and a big thank you to everyone who has read each post:

‘It’s hard to conjure a real sense of fear for any of the characters, encased as they are in a world of starched linen and complicated love lives, separated entirely from the squalor and degradation of trench warfare’. Rose Buchanan in The Independent 4th May 2014. Read more at

‘Six million people watched the first episode. It’s possible that if it continues to win high ratings the BBC will be able to claim it as a success, but as one of the marquee productions of the Corporation’s year-long commemoration of the start of the First World War, it feels lacking in realism and gravitas. I expected better’. Chris Harvey in The Telegraph 13th April 2014. Read more at

‘Every now and then a programme reminds why telly is so great and The Crimson Field, as part of the BBC’s World War One centenary programming, has done just that and surprised me in just how good it’s been’. Kate Bellamy Metro Blog, 5th May 2014. Read more

I had been promised an ‘explosive’ episode of The Crimson Field from a couple of correspondents on social media, after I felt that this drama series had been a slow burner so far. This week there was a plethora of story strands to deal with, from the turmoil and uprising in Ireland to self-inflicted wounds of presumed cowards. WG_Sherborne in the Western Gazette, 21 April 2014.

‘There was a little bit of gore, but not enough to deter a mainstream audience. When a patient died, for instance, the camera cut to the nurse’s face as we heard him breathe his last. You need a stronger stomach to watch Call The Midwife, frankly. Realism was missing in another way, too, one that wasn’t obvious at first: it’s too quiet. There were men screaming, and orderlies shouting, and lorries rumbling, but there were no guns. So close to the front, the noise of artillery ought to have been constant. The big howitzers could be heard across the Channel in London when the wind was blowing in our direction’. Christopher Stevens in The Daily Mail, 7 April 2014.
Read more:

And finally…

‘If you are interested in a more warts-and-all view of field hospitals you could do well to look to The Backwash of War by Ellen La Motte. As Ellen herself wrote, ‘there are many people to tell you of the noble side, the heroic side, the exalted side of war. I want to tell you of what I have seen, the other side, the backwash. They are both true.’ Ellen was an American nurse who volunteered and served in a French field hospital ten miles behind the Belgian lines.  Her series of sketches were published initially in the Atlantic Monthly and later as a collection. They were banned at the time because of the effect they were considered to have on public morale, and they make harrowing reading’. The National Archives’ blog post by Sally Hughes. 28 April 2014. Read the blog at



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.