The Crimson Field: Season 1 (DVD) – Series Review
Follow Genre: Drama
Distributor: Just Entertainment
Episodes: 6
Duration: 50 min (per episode)

The Crimson Field: Season 1 (DVD) – Series Review

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Good: Beautiful acting, easy to follow, emotionally accessible
Bad: Use of modern colloquialisms, final plot got an ending that felt out of place
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Little is known about the nurses that confronted the dangers of the Great War. However, last year the BBC came with a drama series that had but one promise: to honour the lives of those brave women. The Crimson Field, written by Sarah Phelps, gives a glimpse into the daily regimes of a field hospital while focussing not only on the horrors of war, but also the very reasons why people wanted to face them.

The Crimson Field series 1 title

Where it is men that fight in the trenches during World War One, it is mostly women that care for them in the tented field hospitals. As the amount of injuries and casualties rise every day, more helping healing hands in the form of civilians are definitely welcome. At least on paper. When Katherine ‘Kitty’ Trevelyan (Oona Chaplin), Flora Marshall (Alice St Clair) and Rosalie Berwick (Marianne Oldham) arrive as volunteer nurses on the coast of Northern France, they quickly find out not everyone is happy about leaving men in the care of hardly trained hands. However, soon all three find their place, though one in a more grisly way than the others…

As victims of war are shipped to the hospital and the nurses quickly have to learn how to tend both physical and mental problems, a fourth new face arrives in the form of Sister Joan Livesey (Suranne Jones). As a nurse who originally worked in Liverpool, Joan does not allow herself to being led by the rather strict military traditions both Matron Grace Carter (Hermione Norris) and Sister Margaret Quayle (Kerry Fox) follow. As expected, while some welcome this breathe of fresh air, Joan’s modern ways cause friction with those putting protocols above anything else.

The Crimson Field series 1_1

Meanwhile, wounded soldiers with backstories of their own keep coming in. It quickly becomes very clear that the war is not only taking lives at the front, but also by the politics and beliefs in the chain of command. Young Private Albert Nicholls (Phil Cheadle), who suffered from a gunshot to the hand, eventually gets executed on the suspicion that the wound was self-inflicted, instantaneously putting the label of deserter on him. Indeed, the enemies are not just those that are firing shots. This is certainly also reflected in the tensions surrounding Enda Peach (Kerr Logan), a young Irish soldier, who rebels in his own way as he comes to realize he is fighting in name of the oppressors of his home country. During these events, Sister Joan can no longer hide the true reason for her being so close to the front line and confides to Belgian Jaco (Daniel Betts), who is struggling with the secret that his wife is German, that her betrothed too hails from the other side. On their own accord, the nurses start noticing that Joan is hiding a secret encircling her fiancé.

However, Joan certainly is not the only woman fleeing from marital issues. Kitty, who fled home in order to escape her husband, eventually plans a rendezvous with the man in the hopes of being allowed to contact her daughter. He however prefers to go over the paperwork to make their divorce official first, tricking Kitty into taking all the blame in the process. The reasons as to why this otherwise headstrong and frank woman wanted to leave her past behind, becomes dangerously clear as things get quickly out of hand.

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Over the course of the episodes, war reveals an increasing influence on the emotional state of not only the nurses, but also the soldiers and officers. When the compassionate head of the hospital, Lieutenant-Colonel Roland Brett (Kevin Doyle), faces a personal loss, others see it as a change to use mistakes that have been made under his care to try and usurp him. Meanwhile Jaco has been trying to help Joan to contact her lost lover. Unfortunately, there are always unwelcome spies about that would rather see a hanging than a love story unfold…

The Crimson Field is a great drama for a calm afternoon. The pacing is just right, slow enough to be able to get to know the characters, while scenes switch fast enough so watchers don’t lose interest. The overall heights of the episodes are the fantastic performances of the cast, which makes emotional engagement with what is happening on screen very easy. Every single character, whether you want them to succeed or rip a new one, is someone you feel for. Furthermore, it is nice to finally see a title that also addresses the suffering of half-German households. Sadly, the final episode suddenly dampened the well built up drama surrounding this topic with a bit too much Hollywood.

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Where the drama rules in terms of displaying the many forms of human interaction, it unfortunately fails in historical accuracy. For example, while the use of modern colloquialisms helps to make certain scenes more accessible, it also makes it less believable. Other things include the fact the hospital is supposedly located close to the battle field, yet the scenes always seem to give the impression of a peaceful environment, a ‘true’ safe haven for wounded soldiers; while the series takes place in Boulogne, a region known to have suffered terribly from the griefs of war. Though the location was indeed not directly located in the trenches, one would still expect the violence of the front line to fan out further than is displayed.

In general, the actors were well cast, creating a series with ‘real’ relatable human beings. However, the acting of Suranne Jones as Nurse Joan is definitely the most impressing. The passion and will to help people really drips off the screen and gives the audience no choice but to admire the brave, emancipated ward-sister and ultimately root for her when everything turns against her.

This DVD box comes with two disks, each holding three episodes. The release only has a minimum on features, being the choice between having Stereo or Surround sound and the option to have or remove subtitles. It’s a bit of a pity really as a drama based on the First World War must have had something more to share besides impeccable audio. Unfortunately, it seems that the decision to cancel the series early on has axed the possibility for extras on the DVD-release too.

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The Crimson Field is a series that tells the tale of the Great War and all of its atrocities, both physically and emotionally. Although not always historically accurate, the realism is quite high and the story reflects the impact of the fighting on society, as being in love suddenly can turn into an act of desertion punishable by death. The drama of the Great War is captivating, making The Crimson Field a series that, despite having been cancelled prematurely, is definitely worth watching.

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