The Jamestown settlement in the colony of Virginia was the first permanent English settlement in the Americas, is often described as the place where the British Empire began, and is the basis for the new Sky 1 period drama. Jamestown is produced by Carnival Films - those behind Downton Abbey - which may explain why a second series was commissioned before the first episode aired on Friday. How optimistic.
Set 12 years after the colonists settled, the episode begins aboard a ship as a group of women, accompanied by Sir George Yeardley (Jason Flemyng), are sailing to the New World having been sold into marriage, their passage paid for by the men they have yet to clap eyes on. Of these women, there are three who will (I’m guessing) take precedence in the overarching narrative: blonde Lady Jocelyn Woodbryg (Naomi Battrick), a class above the other women on the boat with a secret and a cold, ambitious veneer; brunette Alice Kett (Sophie Rundle) the kindhearted idealistic one who is determined to make the best of the situation she finds herself in, and Verity Bridges (Niamh Walsh) the Irish redhead who steals food onboard and then tries to make her escape upon learning her husband Meredith (Dean Lennox Kelly with a twinkle in his eye) is a drunk. All are, to coin that word that seems to become more gendered by the day, feisty.
Alice is sold to Henry Sharrow (Max Beesley) who, crushingly, isn’t the tall broad dishy bloke she meets on the wharf , that’s Silas (Stuart Martin) Henry’s younger brother; gentle, kind and respectful, Silas is the exact opposite of his brother and of course, he and Alice fall madly in love. Henry’s a horror, this is evident by his whole demeanour which is fair enough, still doesn’t quite explain why we needed to have a rape before the first ad break but that’s understandable (!);
Jamestown is “a hive of men starved of women”. Oh, that’s okay, then.
Tobacco is the crop of choice, the land has been harvested and allowed these men to prosper, drink copiously and, apparently, not wash. This is why those who have farmed the land, and contributed to economic growth, are gifted 100 acres of land, supposedly, to grant them the freedom to pursue their own ambitions. Of course, it’s the 17th century so it all seems a bit pointless asking ‘what about the women?’ except freedom is a little far-fetched, there is still an evident class structure within the community, with some of the men in debt to a Sheriff of Nottingham-type, Nicholas Farrow (played by Burn Gorman) who practically slithers onscreen and his hired hand Marshall Redwick (Steven Waddington). In the case of Henry, his debt was to buy himself a wife, and within a few hours of her arrival, she wants him dead and his brother instead.
These three women are incredibly likeable; their obvious conniving, manipulative freethinking, and intelligence worn like badges of honour. Sisterhood is an important theme and is what will keep me watching, that and just how the Native Americans who live farther down the river will fare in their depiction. When Verity steals her husband’s clothes and literally wears his trousers, it becomes apparent just what these women are about, they don’t conform to some gender stereotype, and with hope will piss off every single man in the colony. Reverend Michaelmas Whittaker (Shaun Dooley) has already doled out the evils so that’ll be the next thing - three spirited women, one a redhead, who won’t be subjugated, aspersions of witchcraft will no doubt follow in the coming episodes.
While not the most gripping opener, it feels a tad overlong and there are a lot of characters and potential arcs to get to grips with, and yet simultaneously feels as if not much happens at all, however, by the end of the 60 minutes it gains momentum and picks up the pace. The locations are stunning, with director of photography John Conroy making the most of the natural light and the beautiful landscapes, Hungary making an incredible substitute for the US; Budapest for Virginia. Those long shots outside of the settlement are breathtaking and do conjure utopianism and optimism; I’d leave the UK too for that sunshine and greenery. John Lunn’s music is triumphant and expressive and a perfect fit too, along with beautiful costuming.
Looking forward to next week and seeing if the castrated man accepts his powerlessness or becomes a monster…