Pity poor but plucky Annie Quaintain, heroine of the 1870s Yorkshire Dales ‘western’ Jericho. She’s the victim of a spendthrift husband who has the temerity to die, leaving Annie and their two kids penniless and homeless.
Annie’s miseries are many. Her little boy kills a man by accident, she’s very uncomfortable with a Yorkshire accent, she has to wash all of her clothes in a stream where she catches the eye of a presentable hunk who’s duller than a pat of unsalted butter and, worst of all, she suffers all of this beneath the most unfortunate plaits in television history.
But these aren’t just plaits; these are plaits that hug the circumference of her head, so Annie (Jessica Raine) looks like she’s wearing some kind of artisan-crafted bowl. Or maybe a creation left over from The Great British Bake Off.
I’ve spent most of every episode of Jericho so far pondering other uses for Annie’s hairdo. Perhaps it could be a plant-holder? Or a light-fitting? But Annie’s hair isn’t the problem with Jericho. Jericho is the problem with Jericho. When you start fixating on nonsense like the heroine’s hairdo, you know it’s a good sign that the drama has left you far behind, waving from the sidings as it slips quietly into oblivion.
My big difficulty is that I don’t know who Jericho – set in an encampment built around the site of a railway viaduct – is aimed at. It could be me, but then I doubt it, as I feel no point of contact with anyone involved. Annie, for all her telegraphed pluck, is wishy-washy. Spend as long as you like with your hands challengingly on your hips, Annie, but your personality has the force of a bored weevil. I assume it’s meant to have the feel of a western, but there’s no escaping that this is the Yorkshire Dales, and hearing someone yell, “I want you to leave this valley!” can never in a thousand years have the same resonance as its western equivalent, “Get out of Dodge!”
It doesn’t help that a viaduct is at the centre of the action. As someone who has a rudimentary knowledge but full appreciation of Victorian civil engineering, I must stress here and now that I love a viaduct. Viaducts are magnificent, they take your breath away. But even I can’t get in a tizz when someone shouts, with great portent, “This viaduct will be saved!” Yeah, well, whatever.
Of course, the coming of the railways is a fascinating period of social and industrial history, but Jericho feels little more than, at its heart, a damp romance. Moreover a romance between Annie and Johnny (Hans Matheson), who have all of the chemistry of an unlit Bunsen burner.
And Jericho is laughably grim, packed with northern miserablism as the mine explodes, infection strikes and generally everyone gets muck all over them. Except the prostitutes, bosoms hoiked to eye level (theirs), who wear some fabulous gowns.
Then there’s the bloody music, overpoweringly insisting on telling you how to feel – jaunty fiddle-type tunes for happiness, plangent stuff for sadness. OK, give it a rest, I can make up my own mind, thank you. And what are we to make of Clarke Peters as American railroad man Ralph Coates, who seems to have wandered in from The High Chaparral.
I really do, genuinely, like epics of sweep and scale, yet Jericho just doesn’t convince me. It feels too small, too parochial, as the little, often clichéd human dramas threaten to swamp the much bigger picture of social upheaval and unimagined change. And then there are those plaits…