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Watching the premiere of Outlander, which was so kindly offered for free by STARZ (taking a note from SHOWCASE) the first thing that is apparent, apart from an overly long amount of time spent “getting to the action,” is that the series starts off with a continuity problem, stockings on, stockings off and back on again. No less than three times, while the series protagonist is running through the Scottish woodland, the heroine shows at different times in the same scene mud spattered naked legs with no stockings, or tights (pantyhose if this being watched stateside) only to be clearly covered up with hosiery seconds later. This happens enough to be noticeable.
This may seem like a petty issue, but after reading glowing reports about the show and hearing quite a number of people excitedly mention the new series at the Star Trek Las Vegas Convention, much more was expected than what the show’s producers delivered. Blame the incredibly slow opening of the show. Way too much time is spent on building up this WWII nurse’s relationship with her husband. The war has separated them for five years and they are getting reaquainted. Perhaps this molasses approach was needed, but it made the eye wander and start looking for something else to entertain, hence the stocking issue.
Obviously Outlander is geared toward existing female fans of the book series written by Arizona author Diana Gabaldon. Having not read the books that the series is based upon, it is hard to say just how “faithful” the television adaptation is. One thing is abundantly clear, this story’s heroine is no vapid teen who needs a man (glittering vampire) to make her complete nor is she another teen who is forced to become a leader and figurehead to a revolution. English nurse Claire Randall (played by Caitriona Balfe) is not a naive young woman who meets an older man who introduces her to the world of S&M either.
The one good thing about Outlander is that, regardless of the stockings on, stockings off dilemma, Mrs. Randall is a married woman. She has seen the worst that life has to offer in that particular time period by treating casualties of the war. Her language is a bit coarse, presumably picked up from wounded English soldiers, and she is very straight forward. She is obviously a forerunner to “modern woman.” In this instance, well done. Although it could be argued that her use of the epithet “bloody” would have seen a lot more reaction. In the United Kingdom, until fairly recently, this word was considered very bad. A Tom and Jerry cartoon had a scene with that word in it that caused no end of upset from viewers who did not want their children exposed to “this sort of inappropriate language.”
What will work well for the show is the author’s setting. Transporting the forward thinking English nurse back to Scotland during the 18th century is brilliant. In terms of female rights, the Scottish have been medieval in their way of thinking for quite a number of years. In the 1980s the Pubs, aka bars in the U.S. (although that is not what a Public House really is, it is close enough) still had a men’s side and a woman’s side of the establishment. Women were also, depending upon the Pub, not allowed to order a full pint of lager or beer. If the pub did serve the female of the species a full pint, the “lady” in question was looked down upon and not seen as a lady at all.
With that sort of male mindset in the 1980s it must have been miles worse in the 18th century. Again, not having read the source books, it is not known what, if at all, the author used from this “chauvinistic” time period. The series does use the lack of medical knowledge to allow Claire an elevated standing and her husband’s ancestor definitely reacted to her coarse language in a very negative way. Even the clan members are bewildered by this language.
It should be mentioned that in terms of wardrobe and set design, the show delivers. Right down to the hairstyles, the time period of WWII in the United Kingdom is presented very well. A nod to the “segregation” rules of Scotland takes place in the vicar’s house scene when the clergy’s wife removes Claire from the men’s conversation to have a cup of tea in the kitchen. The long set up in the first episode may be needed for the later scenes, when Randall is transported back to the 18th century, but that slow beginning could have been made up for by having a little more time in the “old days” included in the premiere.
Slow beginnings aside, Outlander looks great. Shot on location in Scotland the scenery is spectacular and the cinematography is crisp, clear and stunning. The issue of continuity, stockings on and stockings off, may be the least of this show’s problems. If the show’s producers want to interest any men in the show, proceedings must pick up pace and some action really needs to be shown. For instance, the program’s apparent heartthrob Jamie Fraser (played by Sam Heughan) getting shot while fighting off the “Red Coat’s” during their ambush would not have gone amiss. Congrats, however, need to be given in the area of casting. At least part of the members of the “clan” are proper Scottish actors, some even appearing in that splendid Scot’s detective show Taggart. Time will tell whether this “cult” favorite with more “forward thinking” females and lack of action will really catch on.
By Michael Smith