The Crimson Field: Episode 1 – Potentially Promising

So if you are a regular reader of mine, you have probably noticed that this isn’t The Prince of Egypt review that I’ve been promising to do on my return since January. You may possibly be annoyed for the lack of this review after nearly four months of me saying it would arrive on my return. Or you may be confused and may be thinking “What the hell is this guy on about?”

The truth is that business has once again invaded my life and I’ve been putting The Prince
of Egypt
review on the backburner for a while. I was really struggling to put words down onto paper for the review and have just been staring blankly at it with no criticisms or praise coming to mind.

Then I realised. I haven’t watched this film since January. No wonder it has been so hard to think of anything, all the memories I had of it are a swirled blur that, although bring up the odd line of dialogue and the odd remembrance of a criticism, nothing that could be put in a review came to mind.

So I have resolved to watch the film again sometime this week to revitalise the reviewing juices of my brain so, in the meantime I have been looking for something else that I can review. Something fresh that will be interesting and will calm to vitriol of my possible critics for not being prepared for a long overdue review.

But then a thought occurred to me. The new series of Game of Thrones is out. That’s a35CRIMSONFIELD2502A talking point! That’s popular! That’ll soothe the brows of my irritated readership to allow me more time for The Prince of Egypt review! That will be… done by everyone else in a thousand mile radius. Well bugger that! So here is, after quite a long introduction, my review of the BBC’s new drama The Crimson Field.

So for my readership that has not paid attention to the news or do not have any notion of historical anniversaries, or have just escaped from an underground dungeon of some kind where you have learnt nothing of the outside world, 2014 is the 100th anniversary of the start of the First World War.

Now because of this, the BBC have announced that they are doing a World War I centenary season which will last from 2014 until 2018. It will be making at least 130 new programmes for TV and radio, including documentaries, historical dramas, historical debates and so on. So for the next four years the First World War will be rammed into my brain until no other information can reside there. Thanks BBC!

The Crimson Field is another of these historical dramas which, although a history lover, may have made me turn over the channel due to the over saturation of war programmes which will be continuing for the next four years! God, then it’s going to be same in 2039! I’m amazed how my generation will be living to remember the acts of our forefathers in such a manner. But The Crimson Field caught my eye due to one fact. It’s not about the front and doesn’t take the perspective of soldiers as such, but is about nurses. But more accurately, it hones in on inexperienced women who volunteered to be nurses coming over to an all new type of hideous warfare. Guess it’s time for compulsory overview time!

623x415x5743613-low_res-the-crimson-field_0.jpg.pagespeed.ic.lIPoBoJgo3Oona Chaplin (yes relative to that Chaplin as well as former Game of Thrones cast member) plays Kathryn (Kitty) Trevelyan, is a seemingly reluctant voluntary nurse who arrives in France in 1915, meeting fellow voluntary nurses Flora Marshall (Alice St Clair) and Rosalie Berwick (Marianne Oldham). Upon their arrival at the field hospital they meet Matron Grace Carter (Hermione Norris) and Sister Margaret Quayle (Kerry Fox), professional nurses who see the volunteers as being in the way of professionals. Personalities clash and the truth of life and death behind the front lines begin to becoming unnervingly real.

Now with it being only one episode into a six episode series (which at time of writing may or may not get additional series) I cannot judge this episode as the standard for the rest of the series, but should they retain or improve the standards on this episode, The Crimson Field may become a high standard for the BBC’s First World War centenary season.

Chaplin delivers a great central character for us to latch onto, with Trevelyan appearing to be somewhat of a modern woman and perhaps carrying the viewer’s opinions with her. Trevelyan smokes, a very unladylike thing to do for 1915 for fear, as the prim and proper Berwick say, of giving women “a reputation” (nudge nudge). Trevelyan also baulks at her superior’s terse attitude towards the volunteer nurses and breaks their Florence Nightingale-like code of nursing by abandoning her bed making duties, giving a wounded soldier a cigarette and chatting with him as a person.

Chaplin also provides some intrigue, with her indifferent attitude to the flirtatious surgeon Captain Miles Hesketh-Thorne (Alex Wyndham), dropping a ring off the ship bound for France (trust me not a spoiler) and delivering scathing remarks about her fellow volunteers and her superiors. Chaplin delivers a nuanced role which may leave people thinking she’s like an unreceptive and uninterested teenager or a knowledgeable but cynical individual.

Yet it is her scenes with Norris as Matron Carter that allows the nuanced performance to shine most brightly. Norris portrayal of Matron is superb, creating the persona of a strict enforcer of nursing regulations as well as being antagonistic towards the volunteer nurses, especially Trevelyan and Marshall. But it would be a mistake to see her sternness as her only character trait, as Norris gives Matron another more caring side towards her patients, which is shown to great effect in one instance for her clearly shell-shocked patient. Yet Norris’ and Chaplin’s acting is greatest when they are in the room together with no other main characters interfering. They lock horns in such a believable manner that makes you want to keep watching for what will be said next and by who.

12. crimson field flora marshallHowever the standout performance for me is St Clair as the energetic and childlike Flora Marshall. She really does embody all the stereotypes of women, being ditzy and childlike in personality, even still calling her father “daddy”. Marshall represents sheltered womanhood, especially when one considers she is probably from an aristocratic, or at least rich, background as he has a cook as part of her household. While her stereotypical character may have annoyed me, she is played marvellously by St Clair. She gives Marshall an irrepressible optimism that is hard to not be infected by, even when faced with the sneers of her nursing superiors and the realities of field hospital life, something which is beautifully portrayed in a scene that I again would not wish to spoil.

I have deliberately missed out some important characters for if I reviewed them all I would have too long a review for it to be worth watching the programme, though suffice to say there are really interesting characters left out of this review, especially Sister Quayle.

The Crimson Field is different. I like different. It may be comparable to the BBC’s Call the Midwife, but I’ve never watched it (shock, horror, blasphemy, etc) so for me it’s new. It’s not got so much different in terms of form. Power struggles, relationships, realism and so on. They are all standard practice nowadays. But to show us a side of the First World War, the role of women in France, compared to the usual frontline stories of horror and how all was not quiet on the Western Front is a pleasant change in viewing terms. While I’ll admit that the fact all the volunteer nurses appear to be young and pretty, something which may drift The_Crimson_Field_castslightly from reality, I do hope it keeps entertaining and begins to inform people that the First World War was not just men charging into their Valley of Death at the behest of their commanders. Women were also doing their bit. They served their country in order to save lives and make death as comfortable as possible, a fact somehow lost amongst the seemingly endless casualties list.

Thank you all for putting up with my absence and I promise I will get The Prince of Egypt review up soon… I hope. I want to get the DreamWorks review started so here’s hoping! But anyway I hoped you liked this review and, if I you like this review and if I find the rest of the series reviewable, I may try to keep this going as possible mini-reviews. Anyway please like, share, comment and follow me if you haven’t already and I’ll see you all next Wednesday!

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