New Worlds episode one has aired and to say it was complicated is an understatement. With action taking place in Oxfordshire, the Tower of London (that doesn’t bode well), and Massachusetts there is a lot of detail and loads of characters to pay attention to. For a detailed recap, you can go to Channel 4’s press page.
RF: Very detailed recap. I was surprised by how much they gave away!
A (much briefer) Recap
Admin: King Charles II (Jeremy Northam), looking like Snidely Whiplash in a Cavalier wig, is somewhat concerned about his reign. He particularly wants revenge against those responsible for his father’s execution. Enter the very creepy Judge Jeffreys (Pip Carter, he really doesn’t look like a Pip). Judge J. plans on hunting down Col. Goffe (James Cosmo) who is in Massachusetts and Angelica Fanshaw (Eve Best) who has built a sort of commonwealth/commune in Oxfordshire with an absolutely lovely husband named John Francis.
RF: “Snidely Whiplash” is a(n) hilariously accurate description! He could only be more evil if he actually twirled his mustache. Not only does he want revenge on Charles I’s regicides, he also seems to want to acquire some valuable real estate along the way, hence his “interest” in Angelica Fanshawe. I agree that John Francis is absolutely lovely; he’s an intellectual who drastically deviates from other 17th Century husbands in that he lets Angelica make most/all of the decisions regarding the disposition of her property.
Admin: What about John Francis? He’s Angelica’s “Papist husband who dotes on her and on the Roman Catholic religion…a traitor who has sold his soul to Rome and Pope.” That’s what Judge Jeffreys says anyway, but we don’t like him at all. So, John Francis and Angelica are living an idyllic life….until things all start going wrong.
RF: Never mind that John Francis seems to be the sort who wouldn’t hurt a fly and would far rather spend his days strolling about his gardens, reading; Jeffreys and King Snidely are out to get him and by extension, apply pressure to Angelica to… uhm… not really quite sure what they expect to get out of it. I’m assuming they mostly want her lands, and also to fulfill some vague need for revenge because in her previous life Angelica was known as the “Devil’s Whore” (I haven’t seen the previous miniseries by the same name, which would probably provide more background), married a rebel named Edward Sexby, and supported Cromwell. Plus Jeffreys doesn’t like John Francis because he’s a Papist and therefore responsible by association for Charles I’s death.
John Francis in a Nutshell
Admin: Kind, loving, and faithful are some good words to describe John Francis. He is bookish too. When we first see him he is walking through the busy courtyard while reading a book. Thankfully before he gets to the steps, Angelica plants a kiss on him. His stunned reaction followed up by a disarming smile (lethal dimples are deployed) and kiss back is sweet and sincere. He is clearly a good guy, no matter what Judge J. says.
RF: That first kiss scene is just wonderful. I agree, John Francis does indeed seem to be a very kind, shy, and sweet sort of man. He doesn’t seem to be the type who would lose his temper very often or very easily, and he was devoted enough to Angelica to marry her when she was a pregnant widow – a regicide’s widow, no less – providing a home and name for her daughter, Beth (Freya Mavor). Supposedly he’s the only father Beth has ever known, although we don’t see too much of what that means to her coming across in her performance.
Admin: Certainly some shared scenes between John Francis and Beth would have been welcome. Because the opening episode had a lot of expository dialogue designed to tell us about the history, we lose some chances at actual character / relationship development.
Admin: John Francis has a really good look. He’s got long hair, but it is natural and rather flattering; he doesn’t go for the poncy wigs that other well-to-do types like. He wears earth tones, nothing too ostentatious but everything is clearly quality and well made.
RF: No wigs for John Francis, which is just as well if Sir George Hardwick’s is an example of what he could be wearing; it looked as if he’d sat on it before realizing it was the only wig he brought with him and he still had to wear it. It almost seems like good guys = no wigs, bad guys = wigs. Mr. Malahide’s appearance reminds me of what Uncle Ebenezer might have looked like had he been cleaned up and given charm lessons by Sir Myles.
Admin: And we were somewhat hoping for a Ebenezer/Myles blend seeing as we simply love those two guys despite their vastly different personas. 🙂 I think you are right about good guys having no wigs.
Admin: When Sir George Hardwick (Michael Maloney) shows up to pressure Angelica to sell her lands so he can expand the claypits (and further exploit the workers), she refuses. “There is your answer, Sir George,” smirks John Francis. It is very interesting that in a time when a woman’s property probably would have become her husband’s (I think that would have been the case), Angelica has clearly retained hers with her husband’s full approval.
RF: It does seem very unusual that a husband would allow his wife to retain so much control over her property, but it also indicates a great deal about John Francis’ character. He prefers a relationship where he and Angelica are equals. When Sir George attempts to continue to bargain for the lands, it’s Angelica who continues to say no, while John Francis stands supportively by her side.
Admin: He is no milquetoast though. When Sir George accuses the Catholics of burning down the capital, hence the need for new bricks, and conspiring against the King, John Francis says “that plot was got up by wicked men to discredit all Catholics.” That puts him on thin ice right away.
RF: This is the first negative reaction we see from John Francis, and even then, it’s pretty mild, although the subject is sensitive. You can see the frustration on his face and tell that this is something he’s heard many, many times before, and that he’s getting very tired of having to refute it. But he does refute it, showing, as you say, that he’s not a pushover.
Admin: Sir George continues his threats by bringing up their plan to entertain the King’s “bastard son Monmouth” as a guest. John Francis: “It is not disloyal to extend hospitality to travelers.”
RF: I thought this was also an indication that John Francis had old-fashioned manners and is operating from a different world view. He would never dream of refusing hospitality on the basis of political differences, even if doing so places him in danger with regards to King Snidely. I suspect his attitude may end up changing by the end of the miniseries, though. 🙁
Admin: And it fits in perfectly with the whole commonwealth theme they have going on. Warmth and hospitality are clearly important to John Francis, though Sir George isn’t receiving much (and rightfully so).
Sir George continues pestering and John Francis has clearly had enough:
You’ve had your answer, Hardwick. We care not for your threats nor indeed for your abominable claypits. Indeed! I could wish them blown to Kingdom Come and you with them!
Admin: Oooh! Someone got told!! It is a great moment, showing how committed John Francis is, especially considering Sir George is Judge Jeffries brother-in-law. Uh-oh!
RF: It takes quite a bit to provoke John Francis into this display of temper, but it’s enjoyable to see him cut through all the veiled threats and not-so-subtle double-talk with a very direct statement; he uses very strong language for a 17th Century gentleman! He seems to relish it, too. This isn’t going to endear him to Sir George or Jeffreys any further, but we knew he and Angelica were already in trouble from the start. The claypits are soon to be the least of his concerns, I fear.
Admin: It was very refreshing to have that flash of anger. Finally we get something that isn’t at all expository, but deals with the moment directly. It was sharp, to the point, and beautifully stated.
Admin: It is Beth’s birthday. She has just learned that Edward Sexby is her biological father and is being a bit frosty with Angelica (who pretty much suspects she’s figured it out.) John Francis, though, gives a loving toast to the young lady he fully considers to be his daughter in spirit: “To my most precious daughter. To Beth!” Awwww.
RF: John Francis seems to be a doting father to all of his daughters (Beth has two sisters), but he does appear to be especially attached to Beth. It’s kind of a shame that we don’t see if Beth reciprocates his affection or if she feels confused at all by the discovery that he’s not her “real” father, although she does snub Angelica at the party. We get a lot of non-reactions from Freya Mavor, which makes it very hard to have much emotional investment in her discovery about her paternity. Maybe this will change in Episode 2 if she has a scene with Mr. Malahide. I imagine that John Francis will be quite hurt if this means that Beth’s feelings towards him change significantly.
Admin: I do hope we get a key Beth/John Francis scene. I agree about her non-reactions; she is very hard to read. I am hoping that she will love John Francis no matter what her background is.
Later on, when the party moves outdoors, Beth is kidnapped by freedom fighting Abe (Jamie Dornan). We do get to see John Francis briefly on horseback, but would have liked to have seen more. So frustrating.
RF: Ugh, the whole robbery and kidnap thing… I had so many problems with this! First of all, how incredibly stupid for Abe and his Merry Men to rob birthday guests at the house where they poached a deer only the previous day! And what the heck did he kidnap Beth for?? It’s not like that was going to keep the rest of the house from going after them! Presumably he kidnapped her to give her a protracted – excruciatingly protracted and cryptic – lecture on have/have-not economics. In the woods. Because there’s a lot that Beth can do about the economic situation of claypit workers, while in the woods (Abe’s advice: “Do what your heart tells you.” Oh, fer…!) I suppose at the minimum, Abe makes Beth aware that there are poor, downtrodden workers in the world.
Admin: It was protracted alright. Ugh. The scenes of her searchers on horseback were so brief you didn’t really feel like that were was much going on in that regard. Especially since it allowed so much time for Abe to do his claypit workers show and tell.
RF: Unfortunately, the writers and/or director chose an extremely heavy-handed means of showing us just how badly these claypit workers were being oppressed, by having one of them, a clay-smeared little girl, pause long enough to go “whew!” with fatigue (I rolled my eyes) and pose for a minute or two while Abe continues to lecture Beth. This had the exact opposite effect of instilling any sympathy in me. And this scene was at the tail-end of an equally excruciating scene purporting to show Abe and Beth falling in love, although the two of them react in such… subdued, unemotional ways that I really couldn’t see the attraction, nor did I empathize with it. There was a lot of lecturing and castigating from Abe, and then the following clunker of a line from Beth: “I live in a fairytale, you live in the forest.” Are they kidding?? “They” referring to the writers, that is! But apparently Beth finds Abe’s idealism irresistible, because she ends up kissing him – don’t ask me why.
Admn: I don’t know why she’s whining about living in a fairytale either, she’s the one who chooses to spend her days spinning around in a white robe. 😉 I’m a bit surprised she’s so shocked about the claypit thing since Angelica told Sir George she disapproved of his treatment of the workers. And Beth lived among people who would have known a lot more about the pits. And it’s not like Abe took her that far away because she knew the way to go home which would indicate she’s been there before. OK. I know I shouldn’t over-think these things. 🙂
RF: Excellent point – surely if Angelica is so interested in seeing that her daughters are well-educated, you’d think she and John Francis would have made them aware of the claypits and the current political and economic situation.
RF: However, I do agree with you that it would’ve been very nice to have seen more of John Francis’ search on horseback. He obviously wasn’t going to let armed robbers deter him from finding his daughter, which suggests he’s a very brave fellow. I’m curious to hear what Beth would tell her parents after returning home (“The bandit kidnapped me to give me a lecture in socialism!”) and what reasons she’ll give for her release, but I suspect we won’t get that.
Admin: Well, I guess there will be a chat between her and and her parents next week. I’m quite certain it will be a lot better and far less expository so I’m looking forward to it.
Admin: Overall, it was pretty good….well John Francis is, anyway. BUT – it really needs a LOT more John Francis. Based on next week’s previews, it looks like he’ll be getting some key scenes, so that is good. We really want more!
Sadly, I’m not feeling the Beth/Abe relationship at all. Their scenes together after he kidnapped her just didn’t work and seemed like a forced exposition sequence to try and explain their backgrounds. I am hoping that since the background stuff is now out of the way, next week can focus more on action and plot and far, far less on introduction and exposition.
RF: I completely agree, a LOT more John Francis would be good. We got some tantalizing hints about the kind of man he is, but it would be lovely to see much more. It does look like his storyline takes more of centre stage in the next episode.
RF: I’m not feeling the Abe/Beth relationship, either. In the forest scene, the writers seemed to be trying for the same sort of effect achieved far more successfully in a similar scene from “The Adventures of Robin Hood” (1938). In that version, Errol Flynn’s Robin showed Olivia de Havilland’s Marian the effect of King John’s oppressive taxes on the peasants, who then came to him for help – except that there, we were shown the effects and Marian’s resulting emotions, instead of being told (in this case, by Abe) what we were supposed to feel. But the big difference is that Flynn and de Havilland showed what they felt. They had chemistry together and their relationship was allowed to build, whereas we’re being asked to accept Abe and Beth’s “instant” attraction without anything to back it up, not even their emotional responses to each other. Interestingly enough, the parallel love story between Ned Hawkins (Joe Dempsie) and Hope (Alice Englert) in the Americas doesn’t suffer from the same problems.
Admin: I got to say I really like Hope so far. She is tough, opinionated, but seems a lot more earthy and practical than Abe. I haven’t fully decided on Ned, yet, but I think I like him.
RF: Hope and Ned are coming across as the more interesting couple, for sure. You’re also right that the heavy-handed exposition was a definite scene-slower. Maybe now that everything’s more or less established, they can get the story really moving and give us something far more meaty and substantial to enjoy.
Admin: Fingers crossed then: Less exposition, MORE John Francis! 🙂