Oona Chaplin stars in the BBC’s new drama, The Crimson Field, which forms part of the centenary season for the First World War. When three young nurses arrive at a hospital camp near the front line, they are thrown into a world very different from the one they are used to. As the new voluntary helpers, they are instructed to treat the wounded where possible, comfort the patients and turn down beds, all overseen by the frosty yet benevolent matron (Hermione Norris).
Chaplin plays Kitty, the surly and quick-tempered newcomer with a past troubled by love, whose attitude immediately forces her into the bad books of matron Grace. Then there’s Flora (Alice St. Clair), naïve but well meaning, and Rosalie (Marianne Oldham), reserved and desperate to be of use. There are some rather clichéd ‘baddies’, who take the form of cake-hogging meanie, Sister Quayle, and unsympathetic Colonel Purbright, who forces shell-shocked Lance Corporal Prentiss to return to the front line, despite the best efforts of the kindly resident surgeon (Kevin Doyle from Downton Abbey).
While the script is relatively simplistic and the action is pretty slow moving, the opening episode was intriguing enough to persuade me to return for the second installment. That said, I had no idea everything would be quite so clean in a war-zone hospital (the aprons are constantly gleaming white and the vehicles are bizarrely lacking in any scratches or dirt). The nurses are surprisingly glamorous, while even the gory bits seem contrived and weirdly out of place. I was therefore left a little disappointed. I was rather hoping for something grittier.
There is, however, an array of strong performances. Norris is formidable as Grace, striking a balance between strict and soft. Chaplin in particular stands out among the rest of the cast, whose grace and subtlety as an actress I have always been a fan of. After her stint on Game of Thrones came to a dramatic end last year, I am glad to see her thriving on our screens once again.
One will see immediate similarities with BBC drama Call the Midwife and obvious links can be made with season two of Downton Abbey. In fact, it seems as though they’ve tried to combine the two hit shows in an ambitious attempt to create some kind of ‘super period drama’. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but it does mean that the end result feels both too safe and a little confused at the same time. Who knows? Perhaps that is the intention.
The Crimson Field may not be ‘outstanding’ or ‘innovative’ telly, but it certainly understands what the British public want. The impressive viewing figures are testament to how we really can’t get enough of these types of shows. As long as it doesn’t take itself too seriously and we take it for what it is, a slightly shallow but ultimately compelling watch on an otherwise dull Sunday evening, I can’t see the harm in one more.