West Wing proved that many people wanted great television drama and House of Cards proved that people would pay for it. Downton Abbey and Game of Thrones hooked people onto period drama pieces in a big way and now comes Outlander.
With a wealth of wonderful folk music to call upon for ambiance, and the enduring seductive Scottish folk ‘Skye Boat Song’ as theme music luring people to its favour, Outlander is an all new and outstanding STARZ television series.
It is based on a book series I haven’t read by author Diana Gabaldon. It’s taking television series to quite another height of excellence. Waiting until next April for the next episodes in Season 1 will prove difficult for many, especially me.
From the opening credits, which pans in briefly on a group of ‘forget me nots’ growing wild against a rock in the rugged beauty of the Scottish landscape, this wonderfully produced, directed and written show has kept me captivated through the first eight episodes. They were moving, memorable and action power-packed.
Sam Heughan plays Jamie Fraser a roguish delightful ‘Scottish hottie’ if ever there was one. Every woman out there will be seeking a man in a kilt, so boys get into skirts and go for it.
A mixture of drama, period romance, Celtic folklore and with a dash of science fiction, plus handsome men in uniforms, men wearing kilts and a simply beautiful woman, where to start waxing lyrical about the stunning series Outlander is difficult to be sure.
If you admire great actors, stunning scenery, intellectual challenges, wonderful detailing, lots of mystery, captivating romance, well-written scripts, glorious scenery, mesmerizing music, brilliant production, intelligent direction, outstanding costume and set design, this is the very real television series you’ve been waiting for.
And, if you top it all off with emotional turmoil that tests you at every level, with the addition of that certain je ne se quois that ensures each episode as it unfurls leaves you both yearning and salivating for more then…you simply must watch Outlander.
Wanting to be completely convincing in my appraisal, I have endeavoured to keep spoilers to a minimum.
Starz has gathered a cast of talented actors together for this appealing show.
The performances given by Caitriona Balfe, Tobias Menzies, Sam Heughan and Graham McTavish, plus the outstanding supporting cast are very convincing.
They deserve not only accolades for beautifully rendered, sensitive performances, but also wild applause.
To say they merely inhabit the extraordinary cast of characters they portray is not enough.
They succeed at transporting you back to a time where you learn to appreciate your own so very much more.
The story line centres on a British nurse Claire Beauchamp Randall and the first man of her heart and husband Frank Randall. They have been separated for five long years during World War II and are getting to know each other all over again. They set off on a journey together to the home of his ancestry, Scotland where adventures can often take you where you really do not want to go.
But go they must, as we do right along with them.
On her way Claire meets, marries and also falls in love with Jamie, the Scottish warrior after finding herself trapped in the eighteenth century, having time traveled when exploring a megalithic circle of stones alone.
Scotland is surely in for a decade or more of fans coming to locate the alluring but fictional stone circle of Craigh na Dun near Inverness, even if it proves to be elusive. Tourism is set to boom.
The handsome Highlander, who is a rebel with a cause Jamie Fraser, is played dashingly by Sam Heulghan who makes your heart ache. He is a man giving honour to his clan, his tartan, his mother and the wonderful woman who comes into his life. His fan club base must be growing by the legion every minute.
You can believe you are riding along with Claire and Jamie as they make their way on horseback through the heather across the highlands of Scotland and truly empathize with her dilemma.
This is a land of mystery and magic where you quickly learn to understand why honour and pride of the clans and love of the tartan are immutable; especially when confronted by a cruel whip-wheeling Captain wearing a redcoat, one of the English soldiers invading Scottish land in order to stop an uprising of clan members who want to see another Stuart on the throne of England.
Amazingly to us at this time the English truly believed at that time they were cultivated and civilised. However in reality they were also both cruel and insensitive. Fortunately we’ve all come a long way since.
This will stir up memories, especially in clan folklore and pride in ancestry. It will have us all revisiting why during the 21st century we must learn to get along together and stand up and be counted or we just may descend into another period of dark ages.
Must say I really marveled at the remarkable acting abilities of Tobias Menzies.
He completely master the gentle role of Frank the lover and Claire’s adoring husband in the here and now, as well as the cruel English redcoat from the past Black Jack Randall, whom he plays with scaring intensity – he is quite simply astonishing.
“Oh my dear” he says to Claire as they arrive for their holiday, “…there is no place on earth with more magic and superstition mixed in with daily life than the Scottish Highlands”, little did he know how prophetic he was being.
In the first instance Tobias plays Frank as a loving kind softly spoken man who finds himself at a loss when his new bride and the wife he loves and cherishes goes missing while walking in the countryside.
He is left feeling confused, distraught, in many ways tottering on the edge of insanity. The police are dismissive really, believing she’s run off with another man when he knows she hasn’t. Driven to almost despair, we can see how easy it would be to cross over to the dark side of human emotions.
When he inhabits the persona of a captain in the Redcoats, an distant ancestor of Frank’s for whom flogging a man’s back 100 lashes on top of another 100 lashes is not really an issue, it’s very frightening.
More monster than man, we discover he would not hesitate to violate, rape and beat a woman with sadistic pleasure to suit his own nasty agenda. Rarely do you see such honesty and simplicity on screen at the same time. He sure scared me!
One of the miracles you cannot help thinking of that we enjoy and take for granted, is the ability to anaesthetise a patient during surgery and this is certainly highlighted.
Medicine is still in its primitive infancy at this time. Mountebanks and Medicos abounded but superstition still reigned and healing advanced slowly.
Anyone who needed to lose an arm or a leg to save their lives because of the most appalling injuries inflicted by a sword, canon or musket were just held down as the surgeon sawed their way through flesh and bone. In this you are left hoping beyond hope they fainted. And when it happened. I nearly did.
While watching the series you certainly appreciate why Highlanders at war with the English think Claire, with her 20th century World War II combat nursing experience is a miracle healer well worthy of clan protection.
She offers not only a psychological understanding of wartime injuries and men, but also new ideas about washing wounds and hygiene that bring forth good results and they prove it by marrying her off to Jamie, an important clan member accused of crimes by the English he didn’t commit, to protect her.
The sensitive portrayal in episode seven of Jamie and Claire’s wedding and the night that follows is beautifully conceived, superbly filmed and directed. They are both truly wonderful together.
There is no way anyone could be offended by any of the nudity involved in the show at all. It is so essential to providing an insight into our humanity and the reality of the period of history Claire has been transported to during the first 50 years of the eighteenth century.
There is really no best episode among the first eight. They are all excellent, integral to each other.
Author and actor Diana Gabaldon, who acted as a consultant on the series, and first appeared in the episode The Gathering as Iona MacTavish, says she wrote the books by accident, in order to find out what it took to write a novel. She wanted to decide whether or not she really wanted to be a writer… she asked ‘what do you call books nobody can really describe, but fortunately most people like?
My answer; A winner !
Outlander the series began with considerable charm and gradually built both the excitement and the tension as an intriguing story unravelled.
It evolved easily and dramatically through eight excellent episodes to reach its stunning mid season climax.
It certainly drives home the point about how brutal the English were when occupying lands and intimidating the locals, and you can more easily understand why the people of the clans were motivated to become rebels.
All my ‘Scottish’ ancestry (I am a Cameron) came bubbling to the surface watching Outlander. It made me realise just how far we have come along the road to becoming ‘really’ civilised, although we are not quite there yet.
No wonder this splendid series has garnered a huge following already around the world. Starz has ordered a second season based on Gabaldon’s book two of the series.
Claire is a beautiful brunette with a taste for hard liquor, which is helping her to get through all the pain, death, happiness and heartbreak in her life. And after you have been through these eight episodes you can easily understand why.
Think that I must be a true romantic at heart however – while my heart went out to Claire as she was calling to Frank as she ran towards the circle endeavouring to return to him only to be snatched away at the last minute by redcoats, I found myself with entirely mixed emotions.
Claire, reality check. Just how would you really be able to leave that amazing and entirely too divine Jamie Fraser behind? After all he’s the new age style of man every woman really wants! Well isn’t he?
I loved this series, its great escapism.
From combat to Craigh na Dun, I have to say I am hooked on the highlands as well as on both Frank in his redcoat and that darling boy Jamie Fraser in his kilt – and Claire, well she’s everywoman’s type of heroine, tough, resilient, feisty, talented, beautiful but flawed and constantly able to rise and surmount each challenge as it comes her way.
Watch Outlander; this is a stunning show set in a fantastical world, which is just perfect for the here and now.
Carolyn McDowall, The Culture Concept Circle, 2014
Watch the Trailer
A Starz Original Series
Ronald D. Moore Executive Producer, Writer
Book Series author and consultant Diana Gabaldon
Caitriona Balfe as Claire
Sam Heghan as Jamie Fraser
Tobias Menzies as Black Jack Randall
Tobias Menzies as Frank Randall
Gary Lewis as Colum MacKenzie
Graham McTavish as Dougal MacKenzie
Duncan Lacroix as Muragh Fitzgibbons
Lotte Verbeek as Gellis Duncan
On Foxtel Soho or available to purchase on iTunes