‘The Village’, BBC1’s freshest period drama written by Peter Moffatt and staring John Simm and Maxine Peak, is back for a second series. The premise of the drama is that we will accompany the main character, Bert Middleton (this time round played by newly-graduated RADA student Tom Varey) from childhood to his 100th year. It’s an ambitious project; but will we ever get to see the whole story?
The complaint heard most by reviewers of series one of ‘The Village’ was that it was ‘too grim’. Words like ‘misery fest’ and ‘glum’ and ‘bleak’ were bandied about. And they did have a point – it was bleak, and grim, and the people were often miserable (to the point of Bert’s father John Middleton (played by the always excellent John Simm) trying to hang himself in one memorable episode). But it was 1914, World War I was looming and young men suffering ‘shell shock’ (now known as Post Traumatic Stress) were shot as deserters, including Bert’s brother Tommy. That was grim and bleak and miserable, and to have shown it in any other way would (in my opinion) been disrespectful.
Now, with series two set in the twenties, the war is over, the village has a dance hall and young Bert has a spring in his step. His father John has even cracked a smile or two, and his mother Grace (Silk’s Maxine Peake) is becoming politicised. There’s plenty of opportunity for more misery, but the general feel of the show has shifted slightly, and I think that’s good. Because, no matter how grim our lives may become, we (and by ‘we’ I mean us Brits) will always find reason to smile, it’s part of our makeup.
So when reviewers now complain that ‘The Village’ has been ‘downton-ised’ and the viewing figures for episode one are lower than those of episode eight of series one, it worries me. Will we ever get to see Bert experience WWII, the rocking fifties, the swinging sixties, the ungainly seventies, the glam eighties, the naughty nineties? Will we cry with him as we experience 9/11 all over again? I really hope so.
Peter Moffatt’s idea of cataloging one man’s life over a century of tremendous change offers an unparalleled opportunity for social commentary – and brilliant drama- in the way nothing else on television has yet attempted. I’m with it for the long haul – I’ll be drawing my pension by the time Bert gets his telegram from Her Majesty, but I hope the powers-that-be at BBC Television will make that happen.
If you want to help convince them that Bert’s story should be told all the way through, please tune in to BBC1 at 9pm on Sundays – you won’t regret it.