Hailed ‘the feminist Game of Thrones’ I’ve had my eye on fantasy period drama Outlander since it came out in 2014. Based on the bestselling historic novels by author Diana Gabaldon it’s been nominated for several Emmy’s and a Golden Globe but since it was only available on Amazon Video and I didn’t have a subscription I never really got round to tuning in. Having recently swiped a friend’s login (sign of a true friend) and the next season imminent, I cannot believe I have waited this long and can confirm that the show is indeed spectacular and I have fallen into a rabbit hole of pure jaw-dropping costume drama.
The premise of the show is that in 1945, former World War II nurse Claire Randall and her husband Frank are visiting Inverness, Scotland, it’s a second honeymoon, a chance to learn how war has changed them and to re-establish their loving marriage. During a romantic night-time stroll, they witness a pagan ritual at a stone circle Craigh na Dun.
The next day Claire returns on her own and on touching the stones finds herself transported back to the Scotland of 1743 in the middle of a skirmish between Redcoats and rebel Scottish Highlanders. She is attacked to her astonishment by her husband Frank’s double and ancestor, Redcoat Captain Jonathan “Black Jack” Randall, but rescued by some Scottish Gaels and handsome Jamie Fraser, a gallant young Scots warrior.
The thing is, this is a period drama like no other. True, the characters are amazing to look at, the costumes and the sets are stunning but the depth of historical detail, strength of narrative and character development is beyond expectation. Without giving too much away, the protagonist Claire is ripped out of one world to another and then at some point back. I never thought I would identify with a time traveller – but you can truly feel the gut wrenching loss of leaving all you know and finding yourself utterly alone and empty in a new world only to somehow find your way… possibly a new love and everything ripped away again. Oh and that ancestor of her husband, ends up being possibly the most despicable fictional character of all time (think Ramsay Bolton despicable). It’s a blinder.
The time travelling element also means Claire is a modern (post-war) woman in ancient times and voices contemporary attitudes, she is no damsel in distress, but rather coolly competent and sharp tongued amongst ragtag Jacobite rebels, the Parisian court and a sexist 16th Century society. This is fun to see played out.
Secondly, the gaze on uncomfortable subjects are unflinching – the show is positively Dickensian in it’s portrayal of the murky realities of disease, death and unsavoury political characters in this point of history. At its darkest and I think strongest storyline it portrays male on male abuse – when the hero is at once a specimen of manhood but also incredibly vulnerable. It’s a game-changer for TV – if you want you can read this plot-line here. I never saw it coming.
The romantic (sex) scenes of which there are plenty (!) are also firmly rooted in realism – there are significant emotional connects behind each scene and every moment of intimacy is vital to the narrative. Read more about this subject and it’s female writers here. I’ve been blown away at how the world of Outlander is so very well conceived and some even say it’s better than the nine books…
Of course the show is set against a backdrop of blindingly beautiful Scottish scenery and rustic set design with tartan costumes and organic knits that wouldn’t look out of place in a Toast catalogue. Season 2 takes us into the sumptuous parlours of Parisienne gentry and a beautiful apothecary or two.
There are currently two seasons as I’m late to the party, I have steamed through the first and sadly well onto my way in finishing the current second. Luckily Season 3 is about to start this month which gives you just enough time to binge your way through 29 episodes. If you don’t have Amazon Video then you can catch the first season on Channel 4. You won’t be sorry.
Author: Rohini Wahi
Rohini is a London based freelance journalist and trend forecaster for the design industries. She has worked for Elle Decoration, Living Etc, Houzz and Design Sponge amongst others.
She loves a period drama and keeps a tidy home. Launched in 2007 The Beat That My Heart Skipped focuses on home inspirations, design trends, lifestyle and food – coupled with an insight into Rohini’s work and home life – from key picks at trade shows to styled weekend soirees. To contact Rohini for queries, work for hire or just to say hi drop her a line at firstname.lastname@example.org