Jamestown, Season One (2017)

Reviewer: Charity Bishop

After eight episodes (and a promise of more next season) I'm not sure what to say about this much-hated (among my American History Historian Friends) production other than there's good and bad things present in the series. The good is that the characters are memorable and the series might draw interest to early history; the bad is there's so many anachronistic problems I don't even know where to begin. (Maybe with the fact that a good many of these "single boys" in actual history had married Native American wives by the time the white girls turned up? Or that Jamestown has a severe shortage of hairpins since half the girls walk around with their hair down? Or that Verity looks like she walked off a California beach?)

Jamestown needs women. The men are restless. So they send away for wives and pay their passage, expecting good things to come. On board ship, Alice (Sophie Rundle) dreams of her future husband -- and hopes he will be a kind and generous man. The spirited, fiery Verity (Niamh Walsh) is running away from her thieving ways. And Jocelyn (Naomi Battrick) has a dark secret she wants no one to know about — that, uh, left someone dead in her wake. The ship drops anchor. The women walk down the gangplank. Alice's breath catches in her throat. Her heart flutters. She stares into the handsome face of a man she knows she can love -- only to find out, it's her future husband's brother. And he's the better man of the two, but since Henry bought her, she has no choice. Verity isn't all that impressed with her drunken tavern owner, either... and as soon as Jocelyn links arms with the sweet-tempered, noble Samuel (Gwilym Lee), she has Big Plans for him that do not please the local magistrate (Steven Waddington) or his scheming friend (Burn Gorman).

Before long, all of them are in a heap of trouble... and Jamestown faces mutinies, Indian raids, and a secret map to a silver mine that someone might just kill to own.

There's good television and there's bad television; on a superficial level, this is a "fine" show, but if you look at it too long, even from a non-historian perspective, it's a mess. Alice suffers a rape in the first episode and then conveniently suffers no emotional trauma / flashbacks for a good six episodes, so she can fall in love with and become physical with another man. Then, she finds out the man who raped her isn't dead, which triggers intense emotions, flashbacks, and a meltdown. It shows a superficial knowledge of the psychological impact of rape, and seems to use the assault as a plot point, both to inform us of how awful the man is, and shake up the audience, as if the women had no choice but to come halfway across the world and marry these men—some of whom might rape them. (In reality, the women could be selective even after they arrived.) The script mentions Verity's thieving once in the first episode, but four episodes go by before she steals anything... I guess, triggered by watching a man die? Is she a kleptomaniac? Might it not have been better to have her nicking little things all along? And then have her steal bigger things? It's a problem of poor consistency through each episode; instead of stringing things out, and dealing with them throughout the series, "incidents" pop up in individual episodes that seem to come out of nowhere.

From a historical perspective, friends into this period cannot sit through the episodes without pointing out a billion inaccuracies—from the age of the governor's wife to the garments, but since other reviewers will no doubt harp on that, there's a subtler thing at work here that I'd like to point out. There's an increasing shift in entertainment toward sneering at the attitudes of the past. This mindset believes historical figures were unenlightened, restrained by their times, and respects neither the attitudes nor the attire of the period. While there is truth in that we take a harsh view on centuries-old beliefs, it's important to portray historical figures more in time with how they really lived. And here's the truth: the only " accurate" characters in this show are the "villains." The only period-accurate-dressed men are the magistrate and his cronies; maybe to point out with their ruffs and fitted doublets they are stiff, buttoned up, and old-fashioned in their attitudes. All the women with their hair up are religious (the governor's wife), or scheming (Jocelyn); whereas the likable, free-spirit, somewhat modern-thinking females such as Verity wear their hair down all the time. Again, the most accurate costumes for the women are the too-religious (read: no fun) one, and Jocelyn, who is rather mean and condescending to everyone she meets.

The costumes are all over the place; some of them are lovely, others are bland. And there's a terrific, too-talkative character in Mercy, whose actress acts her heart out as a somewhat silly but sensible girl. It's not the worst thing I've ever seen (and at least, unlike other recent productions, there's no slandering of historical figures here; most of the cast is 'fictional') and I had fun watching it, but its inconsistencies seem strange — this includes a graphic rape but no other extreme content. Who is this show aimed at? Families? Not with a rape scene! Yet, the rest of the content is consistent with family viewing. I am not one to advocate for explicit material, but having the only sex depicted on the show shown in a violent, negative light raises questions as to the motives behind the production's decisions.

     
Sexual Content:
The first episode has a graphic rape scene (movement, while she struggles and cries); references to the rape later surface. Cleavage on gowns. Several implied romantic / sexual encounters between married couples (kissing).
 
Language:
Occasional profanities.
 
Violence:
A man attacks and rapes a woman. Men are shot for mutiny in the army, or threatened with hangings. Some violence between the Native Americans and Settlers. Brawls break out in the tavern. Most of the violence is moderate / mild, though there are a few close-ups of bloody wounds.

 
Other:
None.