Changing the future, is such a thing really possible?
Outlander, our favourite American-British time traveller drama from STARZ is back for Season 2, based on the novels by Diana Gabaldon, stylishly produced with a considerable flair for fine detail.
The beautiful Claire Randall (Caitriona Balfe) wife of Oxford historian Frank Randall (Tobias Menzies) has been living an adventurous life for two years, ever since she disappeared visiting an ancient stone circle Craigh n Dun nearby to Inverness when she and her husband were on a holiday in the Highlands.
She vanished the day after Frank encountered a man wearing tartan standing half hidden on the street outside the inn where they are staying, staring at his wife brushing her hair through the window.
Claire and Jack had been trying to rekindle their marriage and start anew, after spending so many years apart when he was working for MI5 in London and she as a nurse caring for soldiers on the fields of battle in primitive conditions during World War II.
When Jack challenges the peeping Tom he disappears as if by magic.
It is after all the eve of the Celtic Festival of Samhain, now called Halloween.
Series 1 was all about Claire travelling back in time to encounter the cruelty of her husband’s early eighteenth century ancestor Black Jack Randall (Tobias Menzies) and the kind and loving nature of the dashing Highlander Jamie Fraser (Sam Heughan), whom she marries.
The first season ended with our favourite television couple both coming to terms with the horrendous injuries Jamie sustained at Black Jack’s hands both before Claire met him and again in a prison, from where he is liberated by his highland Fraser clan brothers with Claire’s help.
We left Jamie and Claire fleeing Scotland, heading for France ruled by well-beloved King Louis XV (1710-1774). If you don’t want spoilers you shouldn’t read on.
As Series 2 begins we discover Claire Fraser-Randall dazed and distraught on the ground back in the stone circle at Inverness after witnessing the beginning of the ill-feted Battle of Culloden.
It’s 1948 and Frank finds Claire in the local hospital endeavouring to get over the emotional shock of suddenly losing her life with Highlander Jamie Fraser, the husband she loves so well and whose child she is expecting. She did not want come back to the noise and ugliness of the world just after WW II.
She has made a promise to Jamie as he left to fight the battle of Culloden to live a life she no longer wants back in the future. She knows that all of the Highlanders at the battle were slaughtered and is in total despair.
She also has to get her head around time travelling back to the future in Scotland and into the arms of Frank, who has spent the last two years of his life trying to come to terms with losing her as well. After all Claire was the love of his life too.
It does not go down well when she tells him she is pregnant to a man who has been dead for over two hundred years and Tobias Menzies explores the inner rage Frank Randall feels in great depth.
I do like that the producers of Outlander are not afraid of exploring human emotions in close up, even if they are hard to take, as were Jamie’s horrific prison scenes in Series 1.
It is one of this show’s greatest strengths that its producers are willing to take the time to give us substance. Menzies, Balfe and Heughan lead the members of a strong ensemble cast giving sterling performances.
Menzies impressively draws us into Frank’s emotional turmoil and the darkness of his mind and soul as he struggles to come to terms with all he knows including the fact he is sterile.
Menzies reflects a great deal with one subtle face muscle twinge, one that is so extraordinarily real it goes straight to the heart and you cannot help but feel for his plight.
Black Jack’s blood stirs in Frank’s veins when he loses his temper, smashing up goods stored in a shed by his host and friend Reverend Wakefield (James Fleet). It was his housekeeper Mrs Graham (Tracey Wilkinson) who had foretold Claire’s forked future, living a life between two men and it’s no surprise she asks to see her urgently.
The fine period costume Claire is wearing when found engage Jack’s attention. From what he can find out from an academic friend, they are genuine, custom made during the eighteenth century especially for her.
So perhaps it is part of the reason he is inclined to believe the fantastic tale she finally tells him about travelling through a glass darkly back to another age and all the adventures she has had, including a new husband.
Or is there another reason after all? Can’t help but think that there’s a lot more to it out there, just out of reach as yet.
Frank makes Claire promise she will do her best to move on from Jamie. They will make a new beginning together in Boston where he’s been offered a post at Harvard University.
As they step from the plane he holds out his hand to help her take that final step.
Here’s to the man who loves his wife
And loves his wife alone
For many a man loves another man’s wife
When he ought to be loving his own.”
Suddenly Claire is taking Jamie’s hand and we are going forward from where we left our tartan-clad hero Jamie Fraser (Sam Heughan) and his pregnant wife sailing over the sea to France.
They have just arrived in Le Havre Harbour and are seeking to change the future together.
The Bonnie Prince Charlie story Claire knows had its origins in 1669 when King James II, second surviving Roman Catholic son of Charles I of England, fled England and was replaced by the Protestant monarchy of William III of Orange and his wife, Mary, who was James II’s daughter.
The inglorious defeat of James by William was something the Stuarts did not take lying down. James spent the rest of his days in France attempting to recapture the throne, as did his son James Edward Stuart, and their ill-feted grandson, Charles Edward Stuart generally known to Jamie and Claire as Bonnie Prince Charlie.
In 1744 the Bonnie Prince Charles Edward Stuart assumed command of French expeditionary forces after his father obtained the support of the French government for a projected invasion of England.
Unfavourable weather and the mobilization of a powerful British fleet to oppose the invasion led to cancellation of the plan but Charles Edward persisted in his determination to drive George II from the British throne.
Jacobite societies had to be secret since they were officially banned. Nevertheless, they met frequently and, over a bowl of water, toasted “the King,” using wine glasses engraved with Jacobite symbols.
The toast was well understood by the members as a tribute to the “King over the sea,” or James III, as the Bonnie Prince Charles Edward Stuart styled himself.
He advanced from Edinburgh as far south as Derby in England, before being forced to retreat and his forces were utterly routed at Culloden Moor on April 16, 1746.
But we are not they’re yet. It is 1745, Claire is back with Jamie making new beginnings, and the hand, which Black Jack nailed to a table, is still giving him hell.
Taking rooms to rest, and a bed that doesn’t move, they discuss the future and how they are going to change it; by stopping the Jacobite rebellion.
She wants to infiltrate the movement and try to disrupt their plans in France; Jamie thinks she has a high opinion of just what a crippled highlander and a pregnant woman can do… but when has he not been up for a challenge she asks?
Not a historian, Claire only knows the general outline of Scottish history not the tactics, the strategy or the details of its Jacobite battles. Jamie, on the other hand, would rather find a way to win a war rather than a way to stop it. He may turn out to be the wisest of all.
‘Your cousin Jared (Robert Cavanagh) is in Paris, he’s a Jacobite and can vouch for us and make introductions’ observes Claire. Jamie’s not happy however with lying or using his cousin in such a way, but agrees because it is for the greater good.
They meet up with Jared who wants to know why they want to support the Jacobite cause now; Jamie has shown no interest in politics before.
Taking off his shirt Jamie reveals his brutally scarred back, courtesy of the British army’s Black Jack Randall and cites his other injuries at the cruel commander’s hands.
Jamie asks Jared would any man need further reason to rise up against a King who would allow such horrors to be carried out in his name and considerably moved, Jared pledges to give their wishes some thought.
In the meantime he asks Jamie to manage his wine business while he goes to the West Indies, promising he and Claire a house in Paris and more. They accept, it seems a perfect introduction to Parisian society.
Claire is fighting off morning sickness and the next day walking along the wharf at Le Havre to get some fresh air, she comes upon a sick man being carried hastily from one of the ships.
Her nurse’s instinct and training come to the fore and she follows them hoping to offer her healing services, only to find the man has the dreaded smallpox.
Knowing she is vaccinated, she seeks to help but in the end, only ends up making a powerful enemy of an important French aristocrat who owns the ship the man sailed in, which has to be burned along with its cargo in order to quarantine the disease.
Caught up in the moment Claire as stubborn as ever, realises she has unwittingly made them both a powerful enemy. “Life is never dull with you Sassenach”, says Jamie “I wouldn’t change you to save the world”.
Carolyn McDowall, The Culture Concept Circle, 2016