Where are the old people in The Village?

Surely if we’re looking at the struggles of family life in the last century, older characters deserve a look-in? says David Butcher

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I hate to admit it but BBC1’s bleak drama The Village is starting to win me over. I tried to hold out against its tide of period misery but it has worn me down, dragged me under.

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I still wish the script wouldn’t hector us about how awful everything used to be for country folk. It’s like being pummelled with an old, blood-soaked towel for an hour and told, “This is what it was like for people – see? See?” But thanks to wonderful performances from the likes of Maxine Peake (as long-suffering matriarch Grace Middleton), I can’t help being drawn in, however grim things get.

And this week, be warned, they get even grimmer. You thought it was bad when John Middleton tried to hang himself, his baby got scarlet fever and his son went to war? Pah! You cringed when Lord Allingham blew his brains out in the cowshed and his daughter was force-fed porridge through a funnel? Well, look out – it gets worse.

But misery aside, there’s something that strikes me as very odd in the series’ portrayal of early-20th-century Derbyshire. Have you spotted it? Have you noticed the strange absence of old people? Despite a wealth of families and dozens of characters, The Village has barely a grey hair in sight. It’s like a Peak District Logan’s Run.

This is meant to be a cross-section of country life 100 years ago, a drama of epic range and sweep. There are children (brilliantly acted, too), teenagers, mums and dads in this fictional panoply but no grandparents. By my reckoning, the only one of the main cast over 50 is Juliet Stevenson.

Surely if we’re looking at the struggles of family life in the last century, older characters deserve a look-in? I’m no expert but it’s a myopic view of history that ignores the role played by the middle-aged and elderly, not least in bringing up grandchildren at a time when generations were closer and many older poor people would presumably have lived with their offspring.

This isn’t a minor blind-spot, it’s a glaring absence and a missed opportunity. Nobody needs convincing of what older characters bring to a drama. Recent BBC1 hit Last Tango in Halifax got three well-deserved Bafta nominations, including nods for its leads Anne Reid (77) and Derek Jacobi (74). A glance at ITV’s alternatives to The Village on recent Sunday nights shows Michael Kitchen (64) brilliantly heading up Foyle’s War while Anton Lesser (61) and Roger Allam (60 this year) did their best to steal the show on Endeavour.

None of these actors are good because of their mature years, they’re just classy actors in good roles. What puzzles me is why The Village so glaringly ignored half the population to focus on younger characters. Maybe its aim was to draw a youth audience to period dramas. If so, fine, but that’s no reason to load the historical dice. Subsequent series (we’re promised several) can put this right – and while they’re about it, maybe lighten up a bit, too.

The Village continues on Sundays at 9:00pm on BBC1

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