Rating: 5 out of 5
Undoubtedly a grim tale told through the eyes of a young Bert Middleton. Life was dismal, wretched & tough for all in a down-at-heel village where nobody seems to smile. Powerful performances of John Middleton, a tormented alcoholic father struggling to make a living on a stony patch of land are buttressed by his wife, Grace, the ballast in the turbulent mix.
As John battles his demons & the elements, Grace somehow manages to put food on the table & keep the family intact.
From my perspective, there were a number of pertinent issues that this series highlights. For instance, the consequences of the war forced the villagers to confront the reality of their religious beliefs. For this, the local vicar himself admits that he does not have an answer. This war has now been recognised as the prelude to the secularization of Western society.
The effects of psychological damage parochially called shell shock were little understood by the medical profession at this time let alone the military authorities who considered this malady as an attempt at desertion. Instead of showing compassion & treating it as a bona fide ailment, the sufferers were usually forced back into action as soon as possibly with disastrous consequences. They failed to understand that this was the consequence of prolonged trauma in the front line. One such sufferer was Joe Middleton, Bert’s older brother. Whilst on leave, he suffers from a nervous breakdown for which he is ultimately executed for the crime of desertion.
Martha Lane, the vicar’s daughter returns to the village as a suffragette. An intelligent head-strong young woman, she tackles various of the woes & tribulations with a feisty determination putting her squarely at odds with the men folk of the village.
Despite being the victim of physical spousal abuse by her husband, Grace still shows affection for him. It is genuine emotion but one wonders whether, under such circumstances, the womenfolk merely made the best of a bad situation rather than aggravate an untenable situation.
Despite being a grim tale, I found it thoroughly absorbing and compelling viewing. One hopes that the second series, apparently set in the 1920s, will be just as entertaining but hopefully leavened with more good cheer.