New Worlds, Channel 4 - TV review: Restoration rebels fail to fire the imagination

 

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Six years have passed since English Civil War mini-series The Devil's Whore aired on Channel 4, but 20 years have passed in the semi-fictionalised world of the drama. In last night's sequel, New Worlds, another four-part mini-series, it was 1680, and Angelica Fanshawe (originally played by Andrea Riseborough, now Eve Best) was a middle-aged woman attempting to live out a quiet life in her secluded Oxfordshire estate. Meanwhile, in a Puritan colony across the Atlantic, one of the last fugitive regicides, William Goffe (James Cosmo), was hiding out from Charles II's men.

According to writers Martine Brant and Peter Flannery, the period's key theme is youthful idealism. In the Oxfordshire woods, Beth (Freya Mavor), the sheltered daughter of Angelica Fanshawe and Edward Sexby (John Simm in The Devil's Whore), fell in love with young outlaw Abe Goffe (Jamie Dornan), who also opened her eyes to the King's tyranny. Meanwhile, in the Massachusetts woods, Ned Hawkins, heir to the Hawkins Bay Company, had his eyes opened to the hypocrisy of claiming freedom from tyranny on stolen land, while falling for Hope (Alice Englert).

In pointed contrast to their Generation Y equivalents, these young people had firm principles, and weren't afraid to fight for them – by scalping a Native American, washing their hands in a deer's blood, or whatever other gory deed the occasion called for.

Yet, despite their derring-do, this new cast of Skins graduates and ex-models didn't quite live up to the Devil's Whore originals, a group that memorably included Peter Capaldi, Dominic West, John Simm and Michael Fassbender. Riseborough, with her 17th-century beauty and timeless screen presence, was particularly missed. Idealists might be inspiring in the pages of history books, but they don't make for captivating TV characters. Let's hope this idealism will be compromised and motivations complicated in part two.

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