Saturday, 18 January 2014

The Bletchley Circle, s2, eps1 &2 (spoiler-free)

 Have you been watching the new series of The Bletchley Circle? I’m still not completely sure what to make of the programme, but I am enjoying it. Here's a spoiler-free writeup and some spoiler-free photos for the first two episodes for you.



I expect my documentaries to contain facts (or theories based on facts) but can allow my historical dramas to veer off course – if I want something authentic and set in the 1950s, I’ll watch something from the 1950s. I actually prefer the later Murdoch Mysteries, where they’ve abandoned any pretence at historical accuracy and gleefully shoehorn in Nikola Tesla, Winston Churchill and all sorts of historical figures, to the early ones. The silliness of the second series of Ripper Street was also entertaining. (Jerome Flynn, that’ll do nicely...) So I don’t mind the contrived situations in The Bletchley Circle, or the anachronisms, though I do wish the storyline in the first two episodes of the new series had been less predictable.

Things are still at the stage where the only real character is Susan. You get a sense of how she tries to be what’s expected of a 1950s housewife, devoting her time to home and family, while yearning to do something more intellectually demanding for herself. (I was quite shocked that Susan doesn't appear to have spoken to her husband much since the last series. FOR GOODNESS' SAKE, SUSAN, TALK TO THE MAN! HE'S NOT PSYCHIC!) The other ladies’ inner lives barely come across at all. Credit is due to actress Anna Maxwell Martin for doing a superb job of conveying the nuances of Susan’s character, but she does get the majority of the scenes showing life outside the Circle. Jean was the driving force behind the group’s latest activities, for example, yet we still know next to nothing about her as a person, and Lucy has faded into the background from the last series, where her brutal home life was seen.

It’s interesting to contrast The Bletchley Circle with the most recent series of Foyle’s War, set slightly earlier, and the first series of The Hour, set slightly later, with this series. Foyle’s War had the advantage of long-established characters, but The Hour had better writing than the other two series, and you got a good sense of individuals’ motivations and aspirations very early on. All three programmes have a conspiracy or cover-up at their core, but 1950s Britain, out of the war, with a new, beautiful young Queen and rationing coming to an end, was quite a forward-looking place. Only The Hour shows much of that side of things, with a sense of progress and optimism. The worlds of Foyle’s War and The Bletchley Circle both feel repressed, constraining the characters.

Visually, both Foyle's War and The Bletchley Circle are very dark, which does add to the claustrophobic feel, but the colours are pretty natural – The Hour often had strong colour casts, especially a teal one for dramatic office scenes. There are some lovely shots in The Bletchley Circle, though, with the programme makers making the most of the period settings available to them.

Of course, The Bletchley Circle series two has two more episodes to go, and I’ll be keen to see what happens next. The preview of episode three at the end of episode two suggested a shift in focal character, which would be good, and hopefully lead to more personalities coming out besides Susan. I'm anticipating a cold war spy scenario, but only time will tell.

The first two episodes of this series are currently on ITV Player - I don't know if it works for viewers outside the UK, though.

3 comments :

  1. It's surprising just how many dramas are based around someone failing to have a simple conversation with the person they're married to.

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  2. Even with your uncertainty about this, I'm intrigued... I'll have to check it out. Gotta love women spies/things of that sort.

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  3. I have been watching it, and I watched the first one. I don't hate it or I wouldn't have carried on with it, but I don't love it either. Not really sure why not. But so much that is made now just seems to be lacking something somewhere, for me anyway.
    And Susan irritates the life out of me!
    But Foyle's War I adore.

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