Cara Winter: The Anglo Files

Sit back and enjoy the first of what we at TVWriter™ hope will be a long series of reviews/reports/discussions of  UK TV from the remarkable writer – and Britvision fan – Cara Winter (whom we first met and immediately recruited for the site when she won the Action/Drama/Dramedy category in the 2013 Spec Scriptacular):

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The Anglo Files
#1: OUTLANDER

OK, so, confession time:  I’ve been known to watch TOP GEAR just to hear the accents.  I’ve seen every episode of SHERLOCK sixteen times.  I mayhave been accepted to drama school because I’d memorized the entirety of Shakespeare’s HENRY V.  My Google search history reveals more than a few “2BR rental, London” searches, and my dream car is a Mini with a Union Jack hard top.  I am (shamefully? or shamelessly?) …an Anglophile.

Perhaps good ol’ LB picked up on this, at some point.  Or, perhaps not, and his request was pure randomness.  Regardless, LB suggested that I watch the first episode of OUTLANDER (the new series from Starz), and write about it for all of you.  So here goes.

Not knowing a single thing about the OUTLANDER book series, I didn’t have any expectations going in.  I queued up the first episode (it’s available free, online and on TV), sat down with my notepad, and … wait, what?  It’s set in the UK?  Of the past?  Wait, there’s time travel, too?  To an even more distant past?  And Scottish horsemen, Paganism, and unscrupulous English lords?  Holy crap… SIGN ME UP.   Still, not having gotten into GAME OF THRONES, or THE BORGIAS, or really any of the other historical dramas out there…. even given my Anglo-proclivities, this wasn’t necessarily going to be a home run.

OUTLANDER is the story of Claire, a woman who (while on holiday to Scotland with her husband) finds herself suddenly inexplicably thrust 200 years into the past.  From the get-go, I was intrigued by the world created by Diana Gabaldon, and adapted for television by Ronald D. Moore.   Visually, the show looks amazing – lush landscapes, gorgeous costumes, expensive cinematography, the whole bit.  Even the score is lovely, with just enough bagpiper-y (is that a thing?) to set the mood, without grating on one’s nerves.

Time travel, romance, and the mystical Scottish Highlands have been fertile ground for writers for hundreds of years, of course.  But OUTLANDER manages to feel fresh, original, and somehow timeless.  (And so far, all without zombies or vampires – whoo hoo!!)  And fear not, for those of you not into Sci-Fi:  the moment when Claire (played by the luminous Caitriona Balfe) travels through time is masterfully crafted; you don’t give it a second thought, let alone scoff at it.  I think this is where Mr. Moore’s experience creating one of the best TV shows ever (he wrote & produced the reboot of BATTLESTAR GALACTICA) comes in handy; he knows how to effectively remove even a hint of camp, by focusing not on technology or mysticism, but on people.

Upon waking up suddenly in the 1740’s, Ms. Balfe plays subsequent moments with a perfect mixture of disbelief, wonder and fear.  You have no choice but to follow her down the rabbit hole — and once you have, you’re really glad you did.  So often, TV heroines lack one or more of the things we adore in their male counterparts, be it depth, confidence, brains, or skill.  But Claire has all of this, and more.  She makes me want to buy a plain white dress and find my own ancient monolith (tho, I’d only undertake travel to a pre-indoor-plumbing era if Miranda Hart could be my tour guide).

And credit where credit is due; it isn’t just Ms. Balfe’s acting, but Mr. Moore and director John Dahl’s vision, which sucks us into Claire’s journey.  At one point, she reminded me of the Andrew Wyeth painting Christina’s World – earthy, striving towards home, but stranded – and in the very next frame, I saw an image of my own grandmother in her 30’s.  And all of that was accomplished visually, within a 20 second span.   How did they do that?   Well, TV magic is how.  This first episode is a triumph of solid casting, exceptional direction, and high-end production values… quite possibly a case of the medium transcending the source material.

I’m excited to see subsequent episodes, so long as I can afford to add Starz to my cable package.  But… would doing so be the worst thing for my late summer malaise?  With no more MIRANDA episodes coming out, THE IMITATION GAME not in theaters until November, and DOWNTON’s next season even further off?  How could I resist?

I think there’s potential for greatness in OUTLANDER; of course, time will tell.  While the first episode is somewhat of a slow burn, they still hit all the right marks, and to me a quick pace isn’t everything (24? …hate, hate, hated it).  The most encouraging thing of all, here, is that Ronald Moore is at the helm.  Because for an American, he makes some remarkably good telly.