by Coop Cooper
British military nurse Claire Randall (Caitrionia Balfe) returns from World War II after VE Day to her intelligence officer husband, Frank (Tobias Menzies). They abscond to Inverness, Scotland on a ‘second honeymoon’ to catch up on their love life and to indulge Frank’s genealogical interests. In the hills near the city, Claire witnesses a Halloween ritual performed by druids around an ancient shrine. The power of the ritual transports Claire back in time to 1743 in the midst of a battle between British Redcoats and Scottish Highlanders. There she finds herself on the run with a band of Scots where she quickly proves herself useful with her advanced first aid skills and medical knowledge. She forms a fast bond with the young fighter Jamie Fraser (Sam Heughan) after saving his arm, but she soon discovers that they are being hunted by her husband’s villainous Redcoat ancestor “Black Jack” Randall (Tobias Menzies).
This popular series of novels written by Diana Galbaldon has been described as a “Game of Thrones” for the romance novel crowd. That’s certainly how the Starz (premium movie) Channel is treating the source material, focusing more on the romance and sex than the violence. It closely follows the formula of recent fantasy romance novels, complete with the strong and willful female protagonist, the instant love triangle and the supernatural catalyst that propels the story into motion. I’m not sure if love triangles were a staple in those Harlequin Romance novels with Fabio on the cover, but it sure seems to be popular these days with “Twilight”, “The Hunger Games” and so forth.
It begins in a predictable manner with all the pertinent information in the present (1945) laid out in order to be relevant in the past (1743). Claire is even engineered as a character to be highly useful in the past with her nurse training and convenient study of natural botanical remedies… not to mention the history lessons about the area and time period she learned from her husband only a day or two before.
However, the production design, musical score, solid acting and exceptional female lead proves this is not a show to underestimate. I don’t recall seeing Caitrionia Balfe in any of the previous films/shows she was listed in, but here she makes a significant impression. Producer Ronald D. Moore (“Battlestar Galactica” remake, “Roswell” and “Carnivale”) obviously selected her very carefully to make sure he had a compelling and alluring lead and I believe he succeeded. He also struck gold with his long-time music collaborator Bear McCreary to create some of the most haunting opening/ending credit sequence music I’ve heard in a long time.
The first episode leaves you wanting more. Some interesting things need to happen for Claire to survive in this world and many mysteries need answering. I thought it was a clever, yet cruel decision to make the villain of the series a doppelgänger for her husband. Black Jack’s immediate brutality towards her isn’t fair to her husband at all, who is obviously a good and decent man. This will certainly push her into the arms of the gallant Jaime, eventually discouraging her from trying to find a way home in later episodes.
It’s a neat concept and, although it was highly predictable in the beginning, I like the story and how the first episode was executed. It could be a huge hit for the Starz network as long as fans of the book series, and potential new fans of the show, can gain access to it, even if they aren’t subscribed to the premium channel. The first episode is available for free on Starz.com (for now), but I will actively seek out the next episode based on the strength of the first. I encourage others to do the same but let’s hope there is another alternative to watching it other than increasing the rate of our monthly cable/satellite bills.
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars