Outlander fans were left reeling at the end of series one when Tobias Menzies’ Black Jack Randall brutally sexually attacked Sam Heughan’s Jamie Fraser. Author Diana Gabaldon says the scene is “in no way gratuitous” but admits it would never had been made when the book was published back in 1991.
The Outlander creator tells RadioTimes.com that she has spent the last two decades turning down offers to adapt her book for the big screen “because the scripts were terrible”, but says that’s not the fault of the people who wrote them.
“It’s just a very long very complex book” Gabaldon explains. “It’s a very honest one and frankly, 20 years ago nobody could have done something like that on the screen so in a way it’s the result of television having matured to the point where it can take on these very emotionally complex and very emotionally honest kinds of material.”
Audiences are seeing rape and sexual assault depicted on screen more frequently, leading to discussions about its use as a plot device. Earlier this year Game of Thrones came under fire when Sansa Stark was attacked by her new husband on her wedding night, not long before Outlander’s grim and gruesome scenes aired.
So why was it then, that Outlander’s approach to Jamie’s rapeias often praised and – in certain think pieces at least – held up as an example of how shows like Game of Thrones could handle the issue with more care?
“Well, for one thing it is in no way gratuitous,” Gabaldon says. “It occurs as a very integral part of the plot. They filmed those scenes pretty much straight out of the book – the scenes in the prison and so forth – and in the book it builds, this conflict which is actually a triangle you might say amongst Claire, Jamie and Black Jack Randlall and you see it developing, the dimensions and aspects, through the entire story.”
Gabaldon’s quick to point out that Outlander isn’t a chick-lit romance novel, but a historical one, so happily ever after isn’t her main concern.
“In another kind of book, say a romance novel or something of that sort, you’d get to this point and the hero would be rescued at the last moment or he’d escape and kill the bad guy. It’d be very heart warming and all that but you know, that’s not what happened in the book and it’s very much the same [in the series].”
And she certainly thinks the cast and crew had a lot to do with it too.
“Ron [Moore, the show-runner] is a brave man. He’d read the book and the writers did a fabulous job in the adaptation and how they could bring that scene up in the right shape, you might say. Beyond that it was the actors and Sam and Tobias were just fabulous.”
Outlander Season 1 is now available on Blu-ray and DVD