ITV takes a chance with something new – and it pays off!
Jessica Raine returns once again in period garb in ITV’s new 1870’s set drama Jericho. Far from the sedate pace of Call The Midwife though, Jericho is fast-paced northern take on a Western. Yes, a British Western! On paper a Yorkshire Western sounds ridiculous but it strangely works. In the first episode alone there is three deaths, all murdered one way or another.
Raine stars as Annie, a determined mother of two teenage children: Martha and George, who is forced to up-sticks after falling penniless after paying off her recently deceased husband’s debts. Shunned by her friends and neighbours and determined to find work and keep her children, she makes the fifteen-mile train journey to a shanty town which is the site of building works for a new train viaduct. The settlement houses a community of people from all walks of life, all searching for new beginnings.
It’s difficult to engage with Annie initially, she’s stuck-up and sees the others as beneath her and doesn’t exactly make an effort to integrate; keeping her stony demeanour and stiff upper lip. However, Annie becomes much more human when we do get to see her interact when she sets to make money running a lodging house. Her guests include the handsome ‘prince’ Johnny Jackson (Hans Matheson) – who had the obligatory shirtless scene (not that I’m complaining) – and fellow navvy Skinny, who sadly is one of the victims of the explosion set by Red.
However, Annie’s cold demeanour is carefully juxtaposed with a strong will to survive for her family against the odds. That also comes across in her empathy for Skinny’s family; wanting them to have a more personal letter from someone who cares. As well as her own moral struggle when she finds out her son has murdered Red (in self-defence) and helps Johnny to dispose of the body. “I hate you Johnny Jackson for making me do what you did. Still, I know you saved my son… reckon I owe you everything.”
There were parts to the story that were cliché (Annie polishing her silver spoons as her furniture is being taken by the bailiffs), and a I would have much preferred railroad engineer Coates’ (The Wire‘s Clarke Peters) didn’t reveal his intention to take Thornhill’s place before the explosion. Instead, the small scene at the end with the key indent in the boot polish was sufficient enough to let us know that Coates was behind the explosion (and deaths) without a signpost. Plus, I think we can all guess where the relationships in the series are going.
The tone of the series and setting for ITV may be new (and refreshing I might add) but the story itself is no different to the likes of C4’s The Mill… just sunnier. That is not a criticism in any way though. The Mill was well crafted, quality drama like Jericho. Despite some niggles, I really enjoyed the first episode and I look forward to learning more about the other characters, especially Coates who is obviously not what he appears.
Johnny also may be hiding some skeletons, the clues (if I’m reading them right) are certainly there: Handy with his fists; no problems covering up a murder and knowing the consequences if they don’t. Plus, it was mentioned early on about the majority of the workers being criminals! He may be charming but with a detective now on the scene things look set to get even more interesting in the coming weeks.