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Be it known that 'New Worlds' is the sequel to 'The Devil's Whore' by Peter Flannery (Our Friends In The North)
on 1 April 2014
I first placed a version of this here early to alert anyone who doesn't know already that it follows on from 'The Devil's Whore' by taking up the story more than 20 years later. There are connections between some of these characters and the characters of that piece who belong to the previous generation. Angelica Fanshawe appears again but played by a different actress (who unfortunately looks nothing like the original actress). The real historical individual called Edward Sexby, and who was the hero of of the earlier series, ended up in the Tower of London, (where he died) for plotting to assassinate Oliver Cromwell having come to believe him a tyrant because he has destroyed as a political force the Levellers, the true revolutionaries of the Civil War, along with Sexby's friend the famous Leveller John Lilburne. In The Devil's Whore' Sexby commits suicide before he can be arrested. We appear to be encouraged to think that Beth is Sexby's daughter (she was left pregnant after Sexby's death) but it is never explained how Angelica has met and come to marry her current husband a devout Catholic, especially when we consider that she renounced God at the beginning of 'The Devil's Whore', albeit as a child (but since this is a constructed drama we have a right to understand her character in this way from then on). Angelica to all intents and purposes is a totally different personality since Flannery and Brant seem to have completely redrawn her character for this new story. Her daughter Beth on the other hand is very much more like the old Angelica Fanshawe.
Peter Flannery was the author of one of the most important long-form dramas for television 'Our Friends In The North',which dealt with the big English political/social historical events from the early 60s to the 9Os, and all his work appears to arise from the same Left Wing political persuasion with an added feminist dimension.The political perspective of 'New Worlds' is obviously continuous with 'The Devil's Whore' but as it continues to explore more fully the situation in the New World it doesn't seem so simple. Except for the very clear message that Republicanism is called for before anything else.
Amazon has already supplied a helpful synopsis and so it isn't necessary to describe the subject matter of 'New Worlds', let alone the entire plot, in the way that often reviewers here do.
Like its predecessor it is elliptical, or somewhat 'abridged', in narrative style and so is much more like epic cinema of the classic kind than true television narrative of any kind - especially what is regarded now as the 'television novel' such as 'The Sopranos' or 'Breaking Bad'. It's also much more elliptical than the kind of long form drama that we've occasionally been offered in the past since the critical success of Germany's 'Heimat. But where it is episodic and lacking in narrative details it is correspondingly strong in visual presentation, although not anywhere near as strong as 'The Devil's Whore' which would deserve more than one viewing for this reason alone. That work also deserves more viewings because of the quality of its script: the dialogue is convincingly 17thc without necessarily being the real thing. I don't think that 'New Worlds' can claim that distinction.
The main problem for a critic is the issue of how to deal with the relationship between New Worlds and the historical record as there are some dramatic liberties taken, mostly to produce a more violent and extreme impression of conditions after the Restoration. One of these which seems completely inexplicable except for the purpose of too easily establishing the reality of tyranny is the inclusion of Colonel Blood(and son) in circumstances of horrific mistreatment in the first two episodes. It seems to me that the same dramatic result would have been achieved if these had been completely fictional characters with some other offence than the attempt to steal the Crown Jewels for which Blood was not in fact executed but pardoned.
On the other hand the way in which the case of Colonel Sidney is made part of the story is close to the historical facts and serves a serious thematic purpose that sits well with what might be Flannery's more considered intentions.
But the last we see of what is happening in the New World is Royalist soldiers opening fire without warning on a cabin occupied by a mixed assembly of politically conspiratorial dissidents. We are clearly meant to infer that a massacre is going to take place, which I don't find very credible, at least not in those circumstances.
Anyone who has ever been inspired by the legend of Robin Hood may find the first episode interesting, and even enjoyable perhaps. You'll see why. But there is no 'good King Charles' here, and no 'Merrie England', and it's very violent and brutal. Like 'The Devil's Whore' it could almost have been written by Dumas although, because of the lovely blonde heroine this time it could be a case of Dumas collaborating with Serge and Anne Golon who wrote the popular Angelique series of historical novels, one of which involves just such an encounter with the Red Indians as Beth's.
Dumas' historical novels have not fared well in the cinema, in fact very few have been done, and even fewer done with respect, but I would recommend 'La Reine Margot'(1995) to anyone who has found that 'The Devil's Whore' or 'New Worlds' has given them an appetite for the historical novel. That film does give some idea of what a lot of Dumas' novels are like.
More so than in The Devil's Whore Flannery and his female co-writer are piling on the agony and the pain, and after just watching again the former I'm beginning to wonder whether perhaps his, and now their, work should be interpreted as despairing of any solution to the problems humans create for one another with their selfish and uncompromising ideologies rather than as Flannery advocating a socialist or Marxist solution. But they never despair of individual human relationships which stand up very well. At bottom this is a drama of two love stories and a marriage on both sides of the Atlantic in very adverse political and religious circumstances.
In the end though I think that the real value of New Worlds is that it prompts us to think of the connection between us and the beginnings of the USA which doesn't reflect well on either side of the story. Americans certainly think of this period more than we do but I doubt whether they think about it in as unsentimental way as we're forced to do while watching this drama. Some historical polemics aside this is on the whole a valuable corrective for Americans and much more than a reminder for us.
I reviewed 'The Devil's Whore' here on Amazon when it was first broadcast with small success since most people thought I was being more serious than it deserved. I only gave it four stars, though I would have liked to give it five, but that's mainly because it was too abridged as a result of the BBC handing it over to Channel 4 which also had cold feet about the larger vision Flannery had for it. I felt that my review should approach it as seriously as I thought Flannery's original idea would have deserved.
'The Devil's Whore' is available on 4OD to watch now. It is well worth watching this before 'New Worlds'