Writer Bill Gallagher (Lark Rise to Candleford and Paradise) is experienced at drawing from real life events in history and when researching Jamestown, decided he wanted to write a drama where women, despite being perceived as underdogs, use their intelligence to manipulate themselves into a position of power.
Jamestown was the first established town in America and the drama is set after the men have spent over ten years without any female company which, according to Alice (Sophie Rundle), has rendered them ‘men who have been left alone for so long they are hardly men anymore.’ In the first episode the women assert their authority by ridiculing a man’s sexual capability, demand a man hang for rape and Verity gives her husband to be a much deserved slap in the face with a public audience. One can’t help question whether their counterparts in 1617 would have been quite as brazen.
Those with a keen eye for historical accuracy may need to be forewarned that historically accurate documentary this isn’t, and that visual spectacle comes first. The show is worth watching for the stunning set design alone. Sky 1 wasted no money in having a whole town built to resemble what the real Jamestown would have looked like in painstaking detail.
Despite the many subplots and characters, Jamestown is essentially a story of three women and their attempts to survive sexually frustrated men, alcoholics and poor sanitary conditions. Meek, shy Alice (Sophie Rundle) is doomed to be miserable after mistaking charming pin-up Silas Sharrow (Stuart Martin) for her future husband, only to find she is betrothed to his menacing, brutal rapist brother Henry (Max Beesley). Jocelyn (Naomi Battrick) is the sharp, savvy social climber whose perilously obvious intelligence and artful meddling differentiates her from the crowd and soon marks her as a threat to power obsessed Sir George Yeardley (Jason Flemyng) and bizarrely hateful Nicholas Farlow (Burn Gorman).
In the first episode we witness a savage rape, an explosion that will put you off ever smoking tobacco in a canoe, a wolf attack and a man’s ear being nailed to a plank of wood. If there is one thing the women can be sure of, it’s that adventure in the New World comes at a cost. Although describing Jamestown as a feminist drama would be met with divisive opinions, the sisterly solidarity shown between the women after one of them gets to marry a polite, refined gentleman and the other two get a rapist and a drunk is impressive (and Bridget Jones thought she had problems).
Being this unlucky in the husband lottery would usually be enough to firmly divide female friends. The women pick each other up emotionally and literally (Verity gets stuck in a muddy bog), and show a camaraderie and humour that helps them get through their unenviable woes. If you’re a woman, Jamestown will instil in you an unforgettable gratitude for being born in a time period where the worst feminist conundrum you are likely to encounter is who buys first date drinks?
If you avoid analysing Jamestown from a feminist perspective it is brilliantly silly fun. The drama is sure to be well received by viewers, if slightly lacking in the subtlety that pulls in a huge fan following.