Over 5 million of us turned on the telly last night for a spot of escapism from our impending working weeks. What were we faced with? Wife-beating, suicide attempts, cheating husbands, poverty, alcoholism, rape accusations, an angry mob … and a whole host of 20th century villagers who were just plain miserable.
Don’t get me wrong, BBC1’s The Village is undeniably good; it’s well made and beautifully filmed, with sweeping shots of the Peak District. The acting is stirring, the characters gripping and the ambitious hour-long episodes capture everyday life in intimate, moving detail.
It’s period drama, maybe at its most realistic, but it’s not the kind we’ve grown to expect on a Sunday. It makes me miss Call the Midwife’s perky midwives and yearn for Downton Abbey’s silly, soapy plots.
The Village is so muddy and cold, just watching it makes me shiver. Everyone’s so troubled and angry, their clothes are beyond grubby and I’m fairly sure, two episodes in, that we are yet to see anyone crack a smile.
The upper-class family – who act as a stark comparison to Downton’s Crawleys – consists of a disfigured father who only will only appear when everyone’s back is turned (not a patch on Hugh Bonneville’s pompous patriarch), his tight-lipped wife (who has so much going on behind her pained eyes you can’t help but miss Cora’s simple simpering), two sons and a troubled, slightly mad daughter, Caro.
Last night Caro donned her nightie to roam the village looking for her beloved lost dog (who was stoned to death by a group of rogue schoolboys at the end of the first episode) before bringing his rotting corpse back to her bed. Then she found out she was five months pregnant with her servant’s baby.
And we all thought poor Lady Sybil had it tough when she fancied the chauffeur. Or that Edith was put upon when her Pa didn’t approve of her high-flying career choices.
Meanwhile, the poverty-stricken Middleton family battled on. John skulked around the village on the hunt for a drink (and found it in a bucket of watered-down beer used to clean the wooden staircase in the posh house), was accused of rape and tried to hang himself. Little Bert’s childhood continued on its troubled course (the high point this week was him slitting old Peggy’s wrists to make sure she wasn’t buried alive…) and a heavily pregnant, downtrodden Maxine Peake tried to hide another black eye before popping out another baby. Where was Chummy’s plummy reassurance when we needed it?
It was all cleverly crafted and the drama felt truly real… but it was incessantly and unrelentingly miserable.
Everyone in The Village could do with a slice of Victoria sponge. I miss Thomas the footman’s sneaky schemes, Maggie Smith’s snide remarks and Trixie’s bottle blonde hair. Where’s the jolly cook, the comedy handyman or the fledgling romance?
We are in desperate need of some Sunday night melodrama before it all gets too much. Because, really, who wants realism? The weekend’s over, we’ve all got to go to work in the morning… That’s real enough.
The Village continues on Sunday at 9:00pm on BBC1.