This review contains spoilers.
By the end of New Worlds’ second episode, the drama was soaring. Jeremy Northam’s King Charles II had dissolved parliament with the vainglorious air of a man who believes God has personally shined his sceptre, libertarian Angelica Fanshawe had died at the stake shouting republican incitements, and Will Blood – so close to the Crown Jewels yet so far – had leaped off a building after putting papist John Francis and his beloved wife out of their misery. Against a backdrop of baying crowds and regicidal plots, the series finally convinced me what a fascinating bit of history all this is.
You might have been convinced too, if you’d managed to wade through fifty minutes of anaemic Mills and Boon love affair that preceded the good stuff. Fingers crossed that lovely Beth stays in that cage, with dreary Abe and blank slate Ned chucked in alongside her. The grown-ups are the real interest of New Worlds, though unfortunately for the series, few of them survived episode two’s considerable body count.
Dads in particular were dying left, right and centre. Abe learned of his father’s Massachusetts leap to freedom, Beth’s stepdad’s throat was slit mercifully in his prison cell, and Pastor Russell expired leaving daughter Hope to the questionable guardianship of the Boston Puritans.
Boston, where Alice Englert’s character finds herself at odds with Puritan beliefs is – aptly – where the series’ best hope lies. There’s decent fish-out-of-water drama to be had in a frontierswoman transplanted to a city where she struggles to retain the freedom of life on the edge of civilisation, not that we saw much of it this week. At present, the Puritans are mere boo-hiss villains, hanging signs off grieving children and publicly shaming women for showing their forearms in the street. With all that business in Blighty to deal with, there wasn’t a great deal of room for nuance in Hope’s story this week, so a few more shades of light and dark are on my wish-list.
Just underneath that is a plea for New Worlds’ characters to forget the name of the drama they’re in if only to stop them from repeating it after every ad break. We heard so many invocations of ‘New Worlds’ this week (from Beth, Angelica, dreary Abe, Chris from Skins…) you half expected them to break into song about it all. A Disney-style musical number is actually about the level of Beth and Abe’s blanched, baseless woodland romance, “I can show you the world”, he’d start, “Shining, shimmering, splendid…”
Perhaps masochistically, despite the dialogue being heavier than the Restoration wigs and the characterisation weightier than that (it’s tricky telling the male characters apart when the revolutionaries all look like Frank from Shameless and the monarchists all look like Cher in the video for If I Could Turn Back Time), I’m still optimistic that our time with New Worlds will pay off. There’s a great deal of talent behind it, the odd glimmer of greatness (Patrick Malahide was going great guns in that prison cell speech), and, as the last ten minutes of this week showed, it has a fascinating story to tell. Give it time.
Read Louisa’s review of the previous episode, here.
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