The Crimson Field (2015)
Clearly British productions are my Kryptonite. If you were to do a search of the ‘BBC’ or ‘British’ tags here, I’d wager you’d come away with several posts filed under either one of those tags. The Crimson Field, as is true of anything, won’t be for everyone, but I can safely and without reservation say, it is one of my most favorite British productions to date. The details of which I will attempt to put into some semblance of order down below. Read on, if you like.
Katherine Trevelyan (Oona Chaplin) knows scandal. Her painful and concealed past can attest to this. Using her training and volunteering as a member of the Voluntary Aid Detachment, "Kitty" runs away to lose herself when she’s posted to a British field hospital in France. Her fellow volunteers avoid her because of her outspoken detachment, putting Kitty in a precarious position with her new duties. Rosalie (Marianne Oldham) is among the wealthy in society, but by now, is considered an “old maid.” An innocent often offended by the tasks she has to undertake in her new role, she feels like a “throwaway” when her place in society should be about making a home as a wife. Then there is young and sweet Flora (Alice St. Clair). Flora isn’t the best hand at some of the things she’s tasked with, but she makes up for it with enthusiasm and kindness.
Watching them all is Matron Grace Carter (Hermione Norris). Earning the promotion of matron under the authority of Lt. Colonel Roland Brett (Kevin Doyle), Grace didn’t anticipate this new job, instead imagining the title would go to her mentor, Sister Quayle (Kerry Fox). Tough but fair, Grace sets about running the best hospital she can. Meanwhile, arriving late to her posting is nurse, Sister Joan Livesey (Suranne Jones). Harboring a closely guarded secret of her own, Joan tries to befriend Rosalie by teaching her some of the harsher realities of nursing, only to have her secret discovered.
As wounded men rotate in and out of their hospital on the shores of Northern France, the British Doctors and nurses strive to provide the best care… all while becoming entangled in emotional relationships.
From the earliest moments of the first frame, I was nearly certain this production was going to surpass some of the other productions this could be compared to. The first five-ten minutes along intrigued in ways other period dramas have not. It’s scene of quiet contemplation filmed at a ship’s railing before we’re thrust into the busyness of the ship's docking was the right introduction. Add in the events that follow (one of the most interesting albeit underrated first meetings ever, methinks) and you have the makings of a classic period drama. What this drama deserves is a viewer to give it 15-20 minutes, and if in those moments, you are not hooked, then Crimson Field is likely not for you. I knew in those opening scenes, this was the my kind of drama and past that, things only improve.
Instead of being a hindrance, this production understands how to use the tragic setting of war to its advantage. There isn’t a moment wasted on things unimportant (in my opinion), nonetheless the scripters (the creator and writer is Sarah Phelps, the pen behind the 2011 miniseries Great Expectations) are able to offer their audience some quiet reflective moments and give us some lighthearted scenes, especially where Flora is concerned. Her sunny personality and willingness to work hard is admirable. Her fellow volunteers are certainly more jaded than she. Rosalie is the “pure” girl who traditionally sticks to her idea of a moral code. Then there is Kitty, whose past is anything but snowy clean. The way her story is hinted at is quite wonderful. The slow build of hint dropping keeps us guessing, thinking the worst of her, only to discover perhaps there is more to our prejudged assumptions. I really liked Kitty irrespective of her “cold” personality and pushback attitude. She lets no one in, and is remarkably good at pegging who the other person is.
Not to be forgotten, I’ve not really mentioned the guys! An unforgiveable oversight on my part considering they are pretty great. Aside from the Lt. Col. who is in charge of operations, there are two Captains causing all sorts of chaos at the hospital, who also happen to be doctors. The first is the full-of-himself flirt, Miles (played by Alex Wyndham), who really is a gentleman; the other is the quieter, more contained, Tom (played by Richard Rankin). I confess to liking Miles more than perhaps his character is meant to be liked; I loved his pursuit of Kitty (not in the way you might imagine). Tom's relationship with one of the girls was swoon-y. That’s all I’m sayin’. In keeping with trying to not spoil you all, I’ll keep my fangirling over the guys of Crimson Field to a minimum.
Interestingly enough, as I was putting together this write-up, I read some message board chatter and was surprised there was a lot of dislike for this show. Ironically, I think it’s my favorite War drama of this genre. I’ve seen a few like this, about nurses working under tough conditions and this one easily wins over those I’ve seen prior to this. The balance of the effects of war and character drama is seamless. The acting amazing – particularly one budding romance that is just… ahhh, so fabulously portrayed (that slow build never looked sweeter). We got to see Mosley (Downton Abbey’s Kevin Doyle) in something 100% different, and Johdi May (Daniel Deronda) guests in one episode.
Sadly, cancellation is the word for this one. Though fans are rallying to see a different network pick it up. If episode six is to remain Crimson Field’s swan song, it’s not a bad way to end. There are some unanswered questions, and naturally, we’d like to see more confirmation our favorite characters are going to be alright, but it’s a decent ending. The greatest complaint is simply that the episode ends too abruptly, whereas the rest of the series was more polished. There’s more depth to the characters as the series finale draws to its close and we admire them all the more for learning about their pasts. Fans of Downton Abbey (it’s roughly set in the same timeframe circa season one) will be delighted by this. But don’t take my word for it, watch episode one and see what you think.
Have you seen The Crimson Field? Share your thoughts – good or bad, down below.
(Content: episode three shows a dead male corpse, frontal nudity in full [albeit briefly]; episode four shows multiple shots of a nude male, backside only. There are some “graphic” injuries glimpsed as the hospital accepts new patients though thankfully, nothing is every overly disturbing. We learn a woman may have had an extra-marital affair; a man attempts to force himself on a woman, she escapes. There are three – five uses of the f-word over the entire 6-episdode series.)