Jamaica Inn episode 2 review

Review Becky Lea 22 Apr 2014 - 22:00

Violence, smuggling, and heavy Cornish accents; it can only be episode 2 of Jamaica Inn...

This review contains spoilers.

After the world-building that took place in the first episode, Jamaica Inn slows the pace in order to spend more time with the characters and develop their relationships. Mary (Jessica Brown Findlay) is in deep with the smuggling ring now after lying to the magistrate about what she knows. She longs for escape and confides in Francis Davey (Ben Daniels) but finds herself drawn more to Jem (Matthew McNulty) after a trip to Launceton market. Meanwhile, Joss (Sean Harris) is tormented by his nightmares and is taking it out on Mary’s aunt Patience (Joanne Whalley).

The theme throughout this second episode is one of disguise; each character is wearing their own mask and the episode strips these back one by one. In order to do so, Emma Frost’s script dials back on the action too, focusing on developing the characters’ relationships and their motivations. It works particularly well in certain scenes, building the history of Jamaica Inn and its residents. However, in other scenes, particularly those with Francis Davey, slow the pace to an almost glacial crawl which gives the episode an uneven pacing.

Perhaps the strongest example is Sean Harris’ Joss, a man haunted by his actions. Harris cuts an imposing yet tragic figure and the scene in which he confesses his occupation as a wrecker to Mary is a powerful one, again with its undercurrent of threatened violence. His relationship with Patience is also further examined; this time both the audience and Mary bare witness to the violence that underlies it. Patience’s determination to remain with him despite this adds a tragic expansion to her character, continuing on from the first episode’s increased role for her. It builds well into Mary’s ongoing conflict, particularly her relationship with Jem, demonstrating once again that this is an unsafe environment for her to be in.

Linking back to disguises, Mary finds away to escape for a little while by disguising herself in Jem’s clothes before they go to market. It allows her to behave more freely with him than she would in her regular dress and it also ensures that Jessica Brown Findlay has a little more to do than look surly or depressed. The perils of acting with an accent mean that occasionally, Brown Findlay’s delivery of the dialogue comes across a little flat, particularly in her narration. The scenes in the market offer her a chance to explore other aspects of Mary’s character, but she is still the weak link in a strong cast.

These scenes at Launceton Market are a welcome change in tone, offering some levity to the proceedings. Matthew McNulty’s Jem is the perfect blend of roguish charm, showcased brilliantly as he sells a stolen horse back to his owner. McNulty’s chemistry with Brown Findlay is one of the better aspects of the episode and offers a compelling sideline from the main narrative. It also builds nicely within the theme of disguise; not only is Mary hidden in plain sight, but it becomes apparent that Jem is working to a different agenda.

The quiet tension that had been built up in the first episode is maintained throughout, thanks in large part to the wonderful score. In keeping with the country setting, it has a folk music feel to it with, capable of lighter moments alongside the more explicitly Gothic ones. There’s a few horror references in there with low strings blending in with the wind outside the inn. A piano section in the first episode called to mind John Carpenter’s Halloween theme, albeit briefly, and it has worked well with the visuals to continue the unsettling effect of Jamaica Inn. It works well alongside Philippa Lowthorpe’s direction, maintaining the grim atmosphere.

Whilst the focus is on developing the characters’ relationships in this episode, Frost also expands the story from beyond that of Daphne du Maurier’s novel. Sub-plots are added in around the fate of Mary’s father, who is revealed to be a smuggler, and Ned, a boy from back home who keeps proposing to Mary to no avail. Both seem rather extraneous to the ongoing events, particularly that of Mary’s father. Rather than influencing her character in any major way, it seems to have been more of a plot device to get her to go with Jem. It’s an odd decision to include it and one which is forgotten almost as soon as it is revealed.

The second episode of a three-parter is always a difficult affair as it must develop both the characters and the narrative quickly in order for the conclusion to play out in the final installment. The result for this episode is a rather mixed affair, but the stage is set for Jamaica Inn’s last episode, which promises to be an action-packed affair.

Our review of episode one is here.

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