Warning: This contains mild spoilers for the first season of Jamestown.
Jamestown is, by and large, a mixed bag of drama, action, and unscrupulous misogyny, serving as a fictional telling of a non-fictional era, circa 1617. It follows Jocelyn (Naomi Battrick), Alice (Sophie Rundle), and Verity (Naimh Walsh), a trifecta of womanly trouble – in the men’s eyes, at least. They’re both the lustful and domesticated requirements of every man in the town, having had nothing but their own testosterone-fuelled company for the past dozen years.
As the women set foot for the first time on these new lands of their discovered home, we’re instantly privy to an assertion that they’re each hiding elements of their past – sordid truths that, in some cases, reveal themselves as the show progresses.
Imagine a Deadwood-style set-up, whereby everything feels somewhat lawless and thrown together – and, in terms of society and structured hierarchy, feels primitive, and massively dominated by men. The blokes call the shots, devise the laws, have first and final say in everything that happens, while holding all the key positions of power. Big wigs Nicholas Farlow (Burns Gorman) and Redwick (Steven Waddington) appear to rule the roost, but that’s not without other strong influence (and sometimes opposition) from the likes of Samuel Castell (Gwilym Lee), whom Jocelyn is conveniently paired up with and bears considerable status.
For the women, both existing and newcomers, it’s a suffocating concept, especially for feisty Verity, who isn’t afraid to speak her mind and does so to her own detriment. Jocelyn, however, is more cunning and adept to the long con. Her chosen approach: to manipulate her husband, not only to get what she desires, but to gradually build her own covert power, which is devilishly calculated. It’s a page right out of the Game of Thrones psychology manual, only with less chance of loathsome betrayal and a bloody mid-season death.
But not everyone’s made to feel welcome or smoothly paired off with the sex-starved man they’ve been assigned. With Verity holding her own in what turns out to be a love-hate relationship with her other half, and Jocelyn seamlessly transitioning into nobility, Alice is less fortunate. In fact, it’s during the first episode, where her husband-to-be Henry (Max Beesley) violently rapes her on the first night of arrival. It’s perhaps the season’s most shocking moment and certainly set-ups a grim and horrific tone for the rest of the story. However, despite witnessing such male depravity so early on, we’re (thankfully) barely subjected to anything half as bad for the rest of its entirety.
Henry’s story then interestingly takes a very different turn, when he and his brother Silas (Stuart Martin) go hunting one day down the river. (Click here for major spoilers.) Things eventually do come to a head, but the climax becomes too amicable too quickly, and the fate of the object of their affections, Alice, isn’t as thoroughly grandiose as you’d expect.
But by the end of the first season, everyone’s presence feels somewhat incidental to the overall colonising of what we now know to be USA. The inhabitants in this particular camp are one cog in a machine, a piece of a much larger puzzle that could easily branch out in future episodes. It’s good seeing one small section of the country’s so-called ‘beginning’, yet sort of inconsequential and insular within their little settlement of English-speaking immigrants, too. We get a sense of these foreign invaders, who have seized new-found lands and made them their own, and occasionally encounter the indigenous Indian natives, who do come with their own problems; aside from an initially peaceful co-existence between white settlers and natives, the show’s thematic undertones of how factually and historically white people exploited and attempted to commit acts of genocide to take the land as their own is an unsettling, bleak period to relive.
Warning: spoilers for the finale of Season 1 follow
Yet it’s perhaps the closing shot of Season 1 that has the biggest impact. A wide shot of a line of black slaves entering Jamestown is a particularly chilling and unpleasant historical reality, and serves as a catalyst for what’s to come in Season 2 – certainly steering future episodes in an uncomfortable direction. Jamestown has been criticised for its male dominance and representation of women during the era, as well as for its all-white cast that, understandably, would have been just that at the time. So the introduction of a more ethnically diverse mix – in its most controversial and unsavoury form – may well make or break the series as a whole.
Season 1 of Jamestown is available on Sky Box Sets, with Season 2 airing weekly on Sky 1 from Friday 9th February. Don’t have Sky? You can also stream it on NOW TV, as part of a £7.99 Sky Entertainment Month Pass subscription – with a 7-day free trial.
Spoilers: Henry’s subplot
With Henry as the dominant and boisterous sibling, Silas sees it as his opportunity to start afresh and return to Alice as her new suitor, when Henry is caught in a gunpowder explosion and is left to burn to death. In the wake of his attack on Alice, it seems only fitting that he burn to death in the most painful of ways.
Only, that doesn’t quite happen and we’re left sweating on whether a local Indian tribe can nurse him back to heath, complete with disfigured face.
This story thread plays out as one of the show’s more intriguing sub plots: a time frame where we see Henry slowly recover, while Silas is simultaneously wooing his intended wife back home. Click here to go back to the review