New BBC show ‘The Village’ is okay, but too much bad rural-set TV has put our brains out to pasture

We are living through fascinating times, so why do we prefer fairy-tales of good and evil to honest thought-provoking drama?

Share
Related Topics

Sunday nights have a special place in British life. The fun is over, another week is approaching and, on the main TV channels, schedulers try to reflect the mood of the moment. There will be a gently middle-aged programme, The Antiques Road Show or Countryfile, and a film all the family can enjoy, perhaps a re-run of well-loved situation comedy.

In pride of place will be a traditional, heart-warming drama series which, with its fantasy view of the world, will line the stomach of viewers for the half-truths they will be fed during the week ahead. It will be usually be set in the past, or in the countryside, or - best of all - both.

The BBC's new series The Village, while obeying these basic guidelines, has laid claim to being an altogether superior product. It is ambitious, potentially covering 100 years and has been compared to the 32-part German series of the 1980s Heimat. A lot of money has been spent on it, the production values are good, and some classy actors are involved. Already critics have hailed it as brave, authentic, honest, refreshingly brilliant. One commentator said it reminded her of what the BBC has always been good at.

I was reminded of something else: how a kind of willed stupidity, a preference for a black-or-white version of the past and the present, has descended upon our entertainment and, increasingly, our everyday lives.

Today the key element in British TV drama, and public discourse, is certainty. Anything which is ambiguous or morally complex will be seen as suspect. Here, because the pitch is to de-Downton the past by telling a rural working-class saga, we know the general direction in which a character is heading as soon as he or she appears. The pretty young Methodist with a sympathetic face and the abused farmer's wife will grow stronger. The impoverished, violent farmer will be trapped by his tragic past. There is a psychopathic teacher, some snooty, heartless toffs, a pub full of working men who look significantly at one another when a stranger walks in. Now and then the villagers form a mob and march across fields, shaking their authentic pitchforks and scythes.

This is another basic rule of screen drama, which has been in place since Sam Peckinpah's Straw Dogs: villagers are either good, salt-of-the-earth types or stupid and easily roused to anger. Either way, they are usually moronic. There will be none of the subtle gradations of character that were to be found, for example, in that urban epic Our Friends in the North.

There is a niggling worry that more than mere entertainment is at work here. We are served up stereotypes in our entertainment because that is what we have come to expect in the real world. Bankers, priests, old DJs, politicians: one has only to say the words to know the accepted, prevailing view.

This corrosive stupidity, a preference for unthinking emotion over analysis, is eating into the political process. In the weekend's press, there was a story of how a lobbying group, purportedly representing business interests but in fact part-sponsored by the Government, have been campaigning for the HS2 rail link. Rather than using the trickier argument about business people saving time, the lobbyists claimed that posh nimbies in the Cotswolds were putting their hunting rights above the honest aspirations of impoverished, jobless northerners. This "narrative" worked a treat.

We are living through fascinating times, but prefer fairy-tales of good and evil to honest thought. Imagine trying to pitch to one of our leading broadcasters a series which really caught the mood of recent times: a young, ambitious, sympathetically portrayed banker caught up in the banking crisis, say, or an ageing entertainer haunted by his behaviour in the 1960s when different rules of acceptable behaviour applied, or a politician trying to do the right thing but increasingly obliged to compromise and cut corners.

There is no room for that kind of drama, because it will offend those who prefer their morality in black and white. Instead we tolerate and accept clichés of thought, both on our screens and in our lives.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

SQL Developer (TSQL, SSRS, SSAS) Fund Manager - London

£45000 - £50000 per annum + Benefits: Harrington Starr: SQL Developer (TSQL, S...

Software Developer (JavaScript, TDD, Jasmine, Angular.JS)

Negotiable: Harrington Starr: Software Developer (JavaScript, TDD, Jasmine, An...

Front-End UI/UX Developer (HTML5, CSS, JavaScript, jQuery, Ang

£45000 - £50000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: Front-End UI/U...

C#.NET Server Side Developer (C#, XML, WCF, Unit Testing,SQL)

£30000 - £40000 per annum + benefits+bonus+package: Harrington Starr: C#.NET ...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

Letters: The West flounders in the Middle East morass

Independent Voices
David Tennant as Hamlet  

To vote no or not to vote no, that is the question... Although do celebrities really have the answer?

David Lister
All this talk of an ‘apocalyptic’ threat is simply childish

Robert Fisk: All this talk of an ‘apocalyptic’ threat is simply childish

Chuck Hagel and Martin Dempsey were pure Hollywood. They only needed Tom Cruise
Mafia Dons: is the Camorra in control of the Granite City?

Mafia Dons: is the Camorra in control of the Granite City?

So claims an EU report which points to the Italian Mob’s alleged grip on everything from public works to property
Emmys look set to overhaul the Oscars as Hollywood’s prize draw

Emmys look set to overhaul the Oscars as Hollywood’s prize draw

Once the poor relation, the awards show now has the top stars and boasts the best drama
What happens to African migrants once they land in Italy during the summer?

What happens to migrants once they land in Italy?

Memphis Barker follows their trail through southern Europe
French connection: After 1,300 years, there’s a bridge to Mont Saint-Michel

French connection: After 1,300 years, there’s a bridge to Mont Saint-Michel

The ugly causeway is being dismantled, an elegant connection erected in its place. So everyone’s happy, right?
Frank Mugisha: Uganda's most outspoken gay rights activist on changing people's attitudes, coming out, and the threat of being attacked

Frank Mugisha: 'Coming out was a gradual process '

Uganda's most outspoken gay rights activist on changing people's attitudes, coming out, and the threat of being attacked
Radio 1 to hire 'YouTube-famous' vloggers to broadcast online

Radio 1’s new top ten

The ‘vloggers’ signed up to find twentysomething audience
David Abraham: Big ideas for the small screen

David Abraham: Big ideas for the small screen

A blistering attack on US influence on British television has lifted the savvy head of Channel 4 out of the shadows
Florence Knight's perfect picnic: Make the most of summer's last Bank Holiday weekend

Florence Knight's perfect picnic

Polpetto's head chef shares her favourite recipes from Iced Earl Grey tea to baked peaches, mascarpone & brown sugar meringues...
Horst P Horst: The fashion photography genius who inspired Madonna comes to the V&A

Horst P Horst comes to the V&A

The London's museum has delved into its archives to stage a far-reaching retrospective celebrating the photographer's six decades of creativity
Mark Hix recipes: Try our chef's summery soups for a real seasonal refresher

Mark Hix's summery soups

Soup isn’t just about comforting broths and steaming hot bowls...
Tim Sherwood column: 'It started as a three-horse race but turned into the Grand National'

Tim Sherwood column

I would have taken the Crystal Palace job if I’d been offered it soon after my interview... but the whole process dragged on so I had to pull out
Eden Hazard: Young, gifted... not yet perfect

Eden Hazard: Young, gifted... not yet perfect

Eden Hazard admits he is still below the level of Ronaldo and Messi but, after a breakthrough season, is ready to thrill Chelsea’s fans
Tim Howard: I’m an old dog. I don’t get too excited

Tim Howard: I’m an old dog. I don’t get too excited

The Everton and US goalkeeper was such a star at the World Cup that the President phoned to congratulate him... not that he knows what the fuss is all about
Match of the Day at 50: Show reminds us that even the most revered BBC institution may have a finite lifespan – thanks to the opposition

Tom Peck on Match of the Day at 50

The show reminds us that even the most revered BBC institution may have a finite lifespan – thanks to the opposition