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Sunday, 10 August 2014

The Village returns: Is it as bleak?


Peter Moffat's epic drama The Village makes its welcome return to BBC One this week, as Series Two begins. The inhabitants of The Village are stumbling out from beneath the shadow of the Great War as the series presses on to explore the 1920s in its journey to tell the story of the twentieth Century. This opening episode epitomises the scope and grandeur of this period, as well as the clear ambition that drives Moffat's opus onwards.

We focus on the Middleton family as they struggle through their poverty and try to survive in a world that favours the rich and dishonest, despite the sacrifices that have so recently been made by the working poor. As with any show they appear in, John Simm and Maxine Peake give extraordinary performances as John and Grace, whilst the sheer class of the assembled cast means that every note of Moffat's superlative script is struck more or less perfectly.


In this first episode, there is room for humour and hope as well as the bleaker moments which dogged critical reaction to the final episodes of Series One. The tone in this episode is balanced: of course the Middleton's are still responding to the shock of the war and their own personal loss, but at the same time the episode suggests a new chapter is on the horizon – wonderfully captured in the use of Percy Bysshe Shelley's 'The Masque of Anarchy' in a scene where Maxine Peake's expression seems to instantaneously capture the entirety of the socialist and suffragist movements in one lingering shot.

It is an episode of small victories for the main characters as Tom Varey's conflicted Bert Middleton manages to provide some security for his family just as his mother stands up to the oppressive Allington (Rupert Evans), whose desire for a Cabinet position threatens any moral sense he might have. At the same time, the main storylines are expertly lined up and jostle for our attention alongside the new villain of the piece, Julian Sands' powerfully menacing Lord Kilmartin.

Of course, if you know your history you will appreciate that it's not all going to be rainbows and daisy chains over the course of the remaining five episodes but, on the basis of this strong opener, The Village is somewhat rejuvenated after its break and ready to share its own engaging perspective on our not too distant past.

The Village Continues Sunday's at 9.00pm on BBC ONE.
Contributed by Jane Harrison 

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