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

Austen Lloyd: Regulatory / Compliance / Exeter

Excellent Salary: Austen Lloyd: Exeter - An excellent opportunity for a Solici...

Ashdown Group: IT Support Technician - 12 Month Fixed Term - Shrewsbury

£17000 - £20000 per annum: Ashdown Group: IT Helpdesk Support Technician - 12 ...

The Jenrick Group: Maintenance Planner

£28000 - £32000 per annum + pension + holidays: The Jenrick Group: Maintenance...

The Jenrick Group: World Wide PLC Service Engineer

£30000 - £38000 per annum + pesion + holidays: The Jenrick Group: World Wide S...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Mary Christmas: the Bethlehem story is Mary's moment, when a poor peasant girl gives birth to the Son of God in a stable  

The appeal of the Virgin Mary: A supernatural hope at a time of scepticism

Peter Stanford
 

Letters: Why Cameron is wrong about EU child benefits

Independent Voices
Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history - clocks, rifles, frogmen’s uniforms and colonial helmets

Clocks, rifles, swords, frogmen’s uniforms

Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history
Return to Gaza: Four months on, the wounds left by Israel's bombardment have not yet healed

Four months after the bombardment, Gaza’s wounds are yet to heal

Kim Sengupta is reunited with a man whose plight mirrors the suffering of the Palestinian people
Gastric surgery: Is it really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Is gastric surgery really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Critics argue that it’s crazy to operate on healthy people just to stop them eating
Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction Part 2 - now LIVE

Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction

Bid on original art, or trips of a lifetime to Africa or the 'Corrie' set, and help Homeless Veterans
Pantomime rings the changes to welcome autistic theatre-goers

Autism-friendly theatre

Pantomime leads the pack in quest to welcome all
The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

Sony suffered a chorus of disapproval after it withdrew 'The Interview', but it's not too late for it to take a stand, says Joan Smith
From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?

Panto dames: before and after

From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?
Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Booksellers say readers are turning away from dark modern thrillers and back to the golden age of crime writing
Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best,' says founder of JustGiving

Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best'

Ten million of us have used the JustGiving website to donate to good causes. Its co-founder says that being dynamic is as important as being kind
The botanist who hunts for giant trees at Kew Gardens

The man who hunts giants

A Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there
The 12 ways of Christmas: Spare a thought for those who will be working to keep others safe during the festive season

The 12 ways of Christmas

We speak to a dozen people who will be working to keep others safe, happy and healthy over the holidays
Birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends, new study shows

The male exhibits strange behaviour

A new study shows that birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends...
Diaries of Evelyn Waugh, Virginia Woolf and Noël Coward reveal how they coped with the December blues

Famous diaries: Christmas week in history

Noël Coward parties into the night, Alan Clark bemoans the cost of servants, Evelyn Waugh ponders his drinking…
From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

The great tradition of St Paul and Zola reached its nadir with a hungry worker's rant to Russell Brand, says DJ Taylor
A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore: A prodigal daughter has a breakthrough

A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore

The story was published earlier this month in 'Poor Souls' Light: Seven Curious Tales'