As part of a recent streaming deal, we were given a gratis 3 month sub to Lightbox. This has allowed us to view some made-for-TV programmes which have received critical and popular acclaim. Amongst these is the first series of ‘Outlander’ (Sony/Left Bank 2014) which was released by Starz. This offering is based on Diana Gabaldon’s ‘Outlander’ series of novels.
The story commences in the London of 1945 at the conclusion of WWII. Claire Randall (Caitriona Balfe) is reunited with her husband, Frank Randall (Tobias Menzies), both of them having served in that conflict. They drive up to Inverness, Scotland where a few sideways glances, a mysterious stranger and an ancient henge of standing stones with arcane properties soon conspire to send Claire hurtling back to 1743 – and no DeLorean or Doc Brown to be seen anywhere.
Claire arrives during a skirmish between ‘rebel’ highlanders and some redcoats commanded by, wait for it, ‘Black Jack’ Randall, Frank’s ancestor and doppelgänger who promptly tries to rape Claire, thus setting the tone for everything that follows. Claire, fairly predictably, is rescued by the highlanders and in short order finds herself attracted to buff warrior, Jamie MacKenzie Fraser (Sam Heughan).
So while Claire battles with her conflicted feelings for the men in her life who are separated by 200 years, she also has to navigate her way around the mores of 18th century clan life, a Jacobite uprising and male attitudes to women that would make Woody Allen proud. And series developer, Ronald D Moore leaves no stone standing (see what I did there?) to ensure we get all the messages in bold caps. There’s a scene where Claire is hosted in a dining room by a group of British officers that far exceeds anything that Mel Gibson could cook up for either Braveheart or The Patriot by way of agitational propaganda and stereotyping of the British colonialist attitudes. So much so, that I was strongly reminded of Monty Python’s ‘Upper Class Twit of the Year’ sketch, such was the overplaying of braying entitlement. Don’t get me wrong. Given my name and long-held convictions on such matters, I could be normally expected to applaud. But I didn’t. Maybe because most of the Scots men are forever also making crude gestures and remarks about intercourse with women, farmyard animals and ‘small beasties’.
Then there are the obligatory sex scenes. Firstly between Claire and Frank and then Claire and Jamie. Most episodes have at least one sex scene and some have several.(The shag count exceeds the body count mostly) We know that Claire is libidinous because she’s been told that her fleshy Mound of Venus indicates that her man ‘won’t stray from your bed.’ But the production protocols for this kind of soft porn dictate that the soundtrack is overdubbed with the sort of grunting and yelping ordinarily associated with the final of the women’s singles at Wimbledon.
And so it’s all a bit of a trial, I think. And probably exacerbated by being able to watch 2 or 3 episodes at a sitting, rather than having to wait a week to see who’s been raped/betrayed/ murdered by who. The formula wears thin much more rapidly.
Apparently there is a second series under way and this is set in France. I’m encouraged by that news because if the stereotypes hold to form, at least there will be more interesting sexual positions.