Broody, violent, and romantic; the BBC’s newest period drama, a three-part adaption of Daphne du Maurier’s novel, is a turn away from the comedy and adventure normally offered by the family orientated channel. Jamaica Inn, a tale of smugglers on the Cornwall Coast, is a series that burns slowly but brightly.
There are no complications with Jamaica Inn, as it keeps much of the plot to a minimum. On the death of her parents, Mary Yellan (Jessica Brown Findlay) is sent to her Uncle and Aunt’s Inn, high up on Bodmin Moor. From the house a major smuggling operation is lead, wrecking ships off the coast for their cargo. Mary soon becomes embroiled in the business, conflicted over choosing between the law and her family, and resisting her feelings for thief Jem. The keep-it-simple philosophy works to great effect, as the chemistry between the characters is the true focus and the show’s biggest success. The acting is understated and realistic, the lead characters hitting a level of intensity that swings from the murderous to the tender.
However, for people who have more of a taste for action rather than conversations in the dark, Jamaica Inn could feel stuck in the mud (which incidentally there is plenty of). The intermittent scenes of violence are shocking, but don’t last long enough to turn the stomach. The final episode is a gradual let-down. All the suspense built up in the previous two is traded in for a confusingly unexplained twist. There’s enough time to think it over however, during a showdown that lasts twenty minutes. Again, it’s more about what’s being said than who holds the gun. Luckily the end redeems all. It’s not what anyone could conventionally call happy, but it’s played out just right and executed stylishly.
Complaints abound concerning poor sound quality. The BBC received 2,182 in total, from unhappy viewers with their ears pressed to the speakers. The problem was addressed, with the sound levels adjusted for episode two and three. Occasionally, inevitably, there are some lines that you may need to subtitle if you’re intent on knowing the dialogue word for word. As to the actors mumbling, arguably no-one blind drunk in the middle of the night annunciates as clearly as you’d hope. Realism is what it is.
Atmospheric and fraught with personal drama, Jamaica Inn is a darker road than the BBC normally treads. It gets lost once towards the end, but finds its way back and proves itself a worthy watch.