I’m going to start out by saying that I do love a “historical drama” (and I am using that term in the loosest possible sense). I am a complete sucker for them. Ask my husband, who rolls his eyes at my DVD collection. Pride & Prejudice (1996 or 2005, either works for me). Check. Heartbeat. Check. Downton Abbey. Check. Lilies. Check. Call the Midwife. Check. Many others. Check. Anything set in the past, I’ll give a go. On the other hand, I can honestly say I’ve never watched a soap (since the Archers doesn’t count, and secretly I think of them as distant family I tune in to catch up with because they’ve been such a constant in my life.)
So I anticipated The Crimson Field with interest. Serious writing talent behind it, interesting topic, and a period I’m doing a lot of research in at the moment albeit not in any depth. Great. And since TV watching now seems to result in accompanied tweeting, it was fascinating to see other people’s responses. So now that the series is over, with no clear indication as to whether it’s going to carry on, I’ve got a few thoughts on a couple of the issues raised in various places about it. I’m not going to review each episode, but here’s my two pen’th.
Accuracy. For some people this is a clincher. If you have researched extensively, made your career out of this area then I completely understand that inaccuracies in the programme are going to wind you up. Fair play. I scream at the telly when they show something implausible on WDYTYA? Misrepresentation of the average person’s research experience on national telly really winds me up. There’s a reason it’s known as WDYTYD?* amongst the archivists of my acquaintance… The difference, to my mind, is that The Crimson Field is a drama. Not a documentary. It’s a story. I’m sure the crew worked bloody hard to make sure they were as accurate as they could be, and feasibly the red colour on some of the costumes is wrong and yes, having a Nissan hut in shot was a bit of a cock up, but I don’t think having every single exact precise detail is as important as good drama. And it was good drama, in my opinion.
I read various commentaries lamenting that the nurses were portrayed as less than perfect specimens of women. Shock horror. Writer portrays characters as humans. The various guises of nurses who served in the First World War were incredible women. They were brave and I am in awe of them for going out there and doing something meaningful. But none of them were perfect. And whilst I doubt the combination of stories portrayed in The Crimson Field happened in quite those terms, I can’t believe that women didn’t go out to France to escape something in their past, didn’t come from unsavoury circumstances, didn’t sign up underage, didn’t fall in love with men they worked with even. Certainly soldiers did, so why not the women too? I’ve researched enough men who served in the First World War to know that. But here’s the thing again. It’s a story. Several stories. Figments of the very talented Sarah Phelps’ imagination. I mean, if we’re really being pedantic about accuracy, it’s time someone wrote about how filming it in Wiltshire (or wherever it was) makes it less meaningful as a drama because the Unit was supposed to be in France.
The other gripe that particularly caught my attention was in response to the BBC tweeting details of the book it says inspired the creation of the series. I don’t mean to be rude, but unless you are Sarah Phelps, you have no business declaring what did or didn’t inspire her. And if the BBC say it did, then they probably have that on good authority. Perhaps reading the story of a nurse in another hospital made her wonder what the experience would have been for British girls and women? If she’d adapted that particular book, no doubt there would be whinging about plagiarism. Whatever the circumstances, I’m sure Sarah Phelps doesn’t need me to defend her.
*What Do You Think You’re Doing?
(In my searchroom…)