Outlander: Complete Series 1 Blu-ray (TV series review).

November 1, 2015 | By | Reply More

Uncle Geoff, the editor, thought ‘Outlander’ would be right up my street or glen maybe, because it’s all about wild rebellious Highlanders from Scotland and with me being a MacDonald, a member of the clan, who better to give it a once over. Mind you, I did point out I wasn’t really related to the Bonnie Prince Charlie bunch because, let’s face it, they were either massacred or cleared out of the country. I’m probably related to another lot, one with burgers and french fries.


Based on the ‘Outlander’ book by Diana Gabaldon, here we have what is essentially an historical romance albeit with a touch of time travel. A nurse from the Second World War is transported back in time to Scotland in 1743 when, as many people will know, the uprising involving Prince Charlie was just about to start. Setting a romance in that period would involve a lot of explanation by the author for the reader because, headlines notwithstanding, not many of us have detailed knowledge of Highland Scottish life of that era. By placing a woman from a different time into this scenario, the delivery of facts and features is but a facet of her own process of enlightenment and doesn’t come forward as being manufactured, so to speak. Her discovery thus becomes our own discovery!

The main star is Caitriona Balfe, actually an Irish woman, who plays the part of army nurse Claire Randall. An attractive woman, war weary and a bit dejected, she welcomes being reunited with her husband, the intelligence officer Frank Randall (Tobias Menzies). Travelling up north to pursue historical studies involving the Jacobites, they end up in Inverness. The portrayal of that town in 1945 looks very convincing, likewise the characters of the local people. Claire soon begins to re-familiarise herself with her husband, enjoying all the activities and pleasures she had forgotten for the last four years. By all account,s fornication comes quite natural to her, a good rogering in every conceivable location, an old castle being one of them, all at the hands of her husband Frank who also seems to join in with enthusiasm. Of course, it is all tastefully done and nothing is explicit.

Odd goings-on are going on in the town, Halloween mysticism descending on the folk and Frank gets a bit spooked when he sees a spook in the town, thinking it had something to do with his wife. He actually accuses her, in a mild-mannered way, of having an affair in the past. She completely denies this, of course, but as events transpire, who knows what actually happened and when? Nobody realised that the past referred to events 200 years before! Witnessing an outlandish Halloween ceremony at night around an ancient stone circle somewhere up in the hills, the macabre fantasy begins to weave its spell. Returning to the scene on her own later that day, Claire is whisked away to another time, that being 1743, only to find herself in the middle of a skirmish between Scottish Highlanders and Government Redcoats and there she meets Frank, this time as an officer with a sadistic charm all of its own. He is none other than Jonathan Blackjack Randall and he tries to rape her.

This commences a process of discovery for the bemused Claire, who takes some time to realise that she is not in 1945 but in the past probably in the 1700s. Rescued by Jamie MacKenzie Fraser (Sam Heughan) and his band of highlanders, she is taken to a castle many miles away. Unfortunately, for someone like myself, I can’t stop thinking about Jamie from the early ‘Doctor Who’ but that’s something probably specific to myself. Nevertheless, there are slight similarities. Forgetting about ‘Doctor Who’, this begins an affair between Claire and Jamie, despite her love for Frank, and it’s a complicated affair, unlike any other that has ever taken place because it is separated by 200 years of time. Imagine going up to the wife and accusing her of having an affair only to find out it wasn’t last week or last year, it was 1743! Trying to prove divorce on grounds of adultery would be a wee bit complicated!

The locals think Claire is a government spy. They also think she could be a sorceress because she knows a lot more than they do about diseases, medicine, surgery and whatnot and that, in 1743, is a dangerous thing where witches could still end up being torched. The main thing about her life in Highland Scotland is her romance with Jamie, which blossoms to a full going affair with no restrictions and with no cult or kilt getting in the way. She eventually tells Jamie the truth about her origins and despite reservations, he believes her. Knowledge is a dangerous thing so they say and, although you can’t change history, the couple now decide to stop the rebellion before thousands of people are massacred. She had to get to France and encounter Charles Edward Stuart, the young pretender, before he embarked upon the disastrous campaign that would end up seeing the Highlands of Scotland ravaged and ripped apart.

The important distinction to remember about the rebellion is that it wasn’t a contest between Scotland and England. It was a rebellion based around some of the Highland clans and the rest of the UK government. Probably more Scots were against Charlie than for him, especially because he was a Catholic and also represented a return to the old days of an absolute monarchy. In Edinburgh, he received a cold shoulder from many of the citizens, the castle was never taken and the population of Glasgow hated him. Also, it’s worth remembering that in the 18th century Highland Scotland wasn’t the sparsely populated place it is now. There were lots of people in crofts and the countryside but they were later chucked out in the clearances and replaced by sheep.

Don’t expect fast action and lots of scenes of warfare as it’s not that sort of series. Remember, this is a romance, a bodice ripper, with a bit of action thrown in to keep the bloodthirsty happy. When watching the first few episodes, I kept hoping the tempo would increase but it was slow and rambling, taking ages just to get to the conclusions I had already drawn. In other respects, it is beautifully crafted and many people of a different frame of mind might be able to immerse themselves in the convolutions, twists and turns of the plot.

Being no stranger to Jacobites and Scottish history, I must say this aspect is reasonably accurate. The highlanders look as they should. You don’t see these stupid little kilts so prevalent today, the Victorian invention manufactured to sanitise Gaelic Scots. They actually wear proper plaids, speak as they should in their own language and are filthy and dirty exactly as they had been reported to be from people like Johnson and Boswell. The scenery is also magnificent, taking you all around Scotland. You will see mountains, moors, castles, glens, lochs and heather, with a little bit of computerised technology applied to cover up modern inventions including roads, pylons, phone boxes and suchlike. The scenes are misty and romantic, the typical scenes envisaged by the tourists, but also true to life as we Scots know only too well, the rain pours down relentlessly even in the midst of summer. There’s also midges, these horrible little creatures who continuously suck blood and cause irritation. You never know, being filthy dirty as the Jacobites were, maybe this could be a cure for midges?

Claire is in constant turmoil throughout the series. She is fighting her own emotions, torn between her husband Frank and her new love, Jamie. She is also trying to manoeuvre her way through the politics and strife of the 18th century, a difficult time where lives meant nothing and the answer to all misdemeanours seems to be either a good flogging or execution.

In the meantime, Frank, realising his wife has disappeared, searches in vain to find her. Only by going back to the sacred stones would they ever be united but after such a long time, would Claire want to come back? It’s a question which will continue in the many episodes of the second and third seasons.

I was expecting a good battle right from the start with the gathering of the clans and Bonnie Prince Charlie charging South but, because it is set in 1743, there are at least a couple of years to go before these events take place. As said, the pace is a bit slow but it’s interesting nonetheless and, if you are into a modern romance, by which I mean a bit of sex and violence, and an historical setting, then this is for you. It has a lot of history to explore and judging by the length of the books, there are many more episodes to come. Thus, beware if you get hooked because it will end up costing you a lot of time and money. Otherwise, give it a go and get on with a wee dram at the same time.

There are many Blu-ray and DVD versions, but this one, which is the complete first season in Blu-ray, comes with some extras. Personally, I wasn’t over enthralled merely because, being Scottish, I already knew about them and found them boring. Making tweed, dresses and kilts are not for me. There is also quite a lot about the locations, the cast and deleted scenes. No doubt many people will find this interesting. Be warned: there is also an older movie called ‘Outlander’ which is a sort of Viking Science Fiction story so make sure you don’t order this by mistake.

Rod MacDonald

October 2015

(Region: B/2: pub: Sony Pictures Home Entertainment. 5 discs, 1024 minutes 16 * 64 minute episodes with extras. Price: £42.99 (UK) ASIN: B00M0GMC26)

cast: Caitriona Balfe, Sam Heughan, Tobias Menzies, Duncan Lacroix and Stephen Walters

Format: Subtitled

Sub-titles: English, German, French, Italian, Castilian, Turkish, Norwegian, Danish, Finnish, Swedish, Hindi, Polish, Dutch

Dubbed: English, German, French, Italian, Castilian, Catalan

Subtitles For The Hearing Impaired: English

check out website: www.sonypictures.com


Category: Fantasy, TV

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