PopMatters is moving to WordPress in December. We will continue to publish on this site as we work on the move. We aim to make it a seamless experience for readers.


'The Crimson Field' Addresses War and the Changing Roles of Women

The Crimson Field may not completely enthrall but it is consistently interesting. For a show without grand ambition, you can say much worse.

The Crimson Field

Distributor: PBS
Cast: Hermoine Davis, Oona Chaplin, Richard Rankin , Marianne Oldham
Network: PBS, BBC1
Release date: 2015-07-14

It's worth noting that the BBC has officially announced that the The Crimson Field will not be picked up for a second season. While this news is a bit surprising — for reasons I will share in a moment — it's far from earth-shattering.

Ever since Downton Abbey’s unprecedented burst onto the pop-culture scene by way of historical-fiction drama, each new British PBS drama must be taken just a little more seriously than before. Sure, Downton Abbey can be quite soap-operish and, at times, downright silly, but it is without a doubt, a part of popular culture and thus important to discuss. While Downton Abbey touches on topical subject such as war and the changing roles of women, The Crimson Field addresses these ideas directly.

The series begins with the arrival of four new nurses to a fictional British field hospital in France during the World War I. These nurses share many of the characteristics we've come to expect with melodramatic historical fiction. For one, they are impossibly pretty (although so is nearly every person we meet throughout all six episodes). They also are starkly different, the better to create different character interactions and conflict.

First, and arguably foremost, there is Kitty Trevelyan, played by Oona Chaplin, best known for her role as Rob Stark’s ill-fated wife in Game of Thrones. She is clearly the main character, as well as the feistiest of the new nurses. She is quick to display insubordination when confronted with the harsh authority of Matron Grace Carter (Hermione Norris). Kitty is also harboring a deep secret that unfolds throughout the series, albeit with a bit of a disappointing payoff overall.

Then there's Flora Marshall (Alice St. Claire), the sweet and innocent nurse who is obviously wildly under-qualified to be nursing men in uniform. While St. Claire does an excellent job of nailing Flora’s clueless naivety, her character becomes tiresome fairly quickly. While her purpose seems to be bringing some levity to what is actually a pretty dark drama, she is overall a two-dimensional character whose story becomes filler at best.

The same cannot be said of Sister Joan Livesey (Suranne Jones), whose story is rife with the most drama of any of the nurses. Her love affair with a German immigrant prior to the outbreak of the war has left her in the unfortunate situation of being in bed with the enemy. This eventually comes to a head with the kind of dire consequences one would expect, and largely represents much of the more important dramatic turns of the series.

That being said, The Crimson Field’s six episodes play out very formulaically. Each episode featuring an in-episode arc that focuses on the trials and tribulations of one or a collection of the many soldiers being nursed in the field hospital. Most of these stories are what would expect, from disabled soldiers learning to cope, to some horrifying cases of PTSD, but they are an intriguing part of the series and are handled well. There are few quality programs with narratives focused solely on the First World War and how it directly affected soldiers, and in this, The Crimson Field is fairly successful.

Worth noting is the lack of any special features or extras on the season one DVD for the Crimson Field. With a subject manner so steeped in history as the First World War, it seems a missed opportunity for the BBC/PBS team. Short featurettes on the events occurring during the time of these fictional events could have given the show more significance, something it desperately needed.

Series one ended with some question marks that will now be left unanswered. The BBC cited finances, airtime, and viewership as reasons for the show's cancellation. The formula for The Crimson Field did work to keep me consistently interested, if not completely enthralled. Although the stories may not stick with the viewer in the way that many quality television dramas tend to do, both the drama involving each individual nurse as well as the soldiers they treat remain entertaining. For a show without grand dramatic ambitions, the BBC could do worse.


Please Donate to Help Save PopMatters

PopMatters have been informed by our current technology provider that we have until December to move off their service. We are moving to WordPress and a new host, but we really need your help to fund the move and further development.





'A Peculiar Indifference' Takes on Violence in Black America

Pulitzer Prize finalist Elliott Currie's scrupulous investigation of the impacts of violence on Black Americans, A Peculiar Indifference, shows the damaging effect of widespread suffering and identifies an achievable solution.


20 Songs From the 1990s That Time Forgot

Rather than listening to Spotify's latest playlist, give the tunes from this reminiscence of lost '90s singles a spin.


Delightful 'Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day' Is Good Escapism

Now streaming on Amazon Prime, Bharat Nalluri's 2008 romantic comedy, Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day, provides pleasant respite in these times of doom and gloom.


The 10 Best Horror Movie Remakes

The horror genre has produced some remake junk. In the case of these ten treats, the update delivers something definitive.


Flirting with Demons at Home, or, When TV Movies Were Evil

Just in time for Halloween, a new Blu-ray from Kino Lorber presents sparkling 2K digital restorations of TV movies that have been missing for decades: Fear No Evil (1969) and its sequel, Ritual of Evil (1970).


Magick Mountain Are Having a Party But Is the Audience Invited?

Garage rockers Magick Mountain debut with Weird Feelings, an album big on fuzz but light on hooks.


Aalok Bala Revels in Nature and Contradiction on EP 'Sacred Mirror'

Electronic musician Aalok Bala knows the night is not a simple mirror, "silver and exact"; it phases and echoes back, alive, sacred.


Clipping Take a Stab at Horrorcore with the Fiery 'Visions of Bodies Being Burned'

Clipping's latest album, Visions of Bodies Being Burned, is a terrifying, razor-sharp sequel to their previous ode to the horror film genre.


Call Super's New LP Is a Digital Biosphere of Insectoid and Otherworldly Sounds

Call Super's Every Mouth Teeth Missing is like its own digital biosphere, rife with the sounds of the forest and the sounds of the studio alike.


Laura Veirs Talks to Herself on 'My Echo'

The thematic connections between these 10 Laura Veirs songs and our current situation are somewhat coincidental, or maybe just the result of kismet or karmic or something in the zeitgeist.


15 Classic Horror Films That Just Won't Die

Those lucky enough to be warped by these 15 classic horror films, now available on Blu-ray from The Criterion Collection and Kino Lorber, never got over them.


Sixteen Years Later Wayne Payne Follows Up His Debut

Waylon Payne details a journey from addiction to redemption on Blue Eyes, The Harlot, The Queer, The Pusher & Me, his first album since his 2004 debut.


Every Song on the Phoenix Foundation's 'Friend Ship' Is a Stand-Out

Friend Ship is the Phoenix Foundation's most personal work and also their most engaging since their 2010 classic, Buffalo.


Kevin Morby Gets Back to Basics on 'Sundowner'

On Sundowner, Kevin Morby sings of valleys, broken stars, pale nights, and the midwestern American sun. Most of the time, he's alone with his guitar and a haunting mellotron.


Lydia Loveless Creates Her Most Personal Album with 'Daughter'

Given the turmoil of the era, you might expect Lydia Loveless to lean into the anger, amplifying the electric guitar side of her cowpunk. Instead, she created a personal record with a full range of moods, still full of her typical wit.


Flowers for Hermes: An Interview with Performing Activist André De Shields

From creating the title role in The Wiz to winning an Emmy for Ain't Misbehavin', André De Shields reflects on his roles in more than four decades of iconic musicals, including the GRAMMY and Tony Award-winning Hadestown.


The 13 Greatest Horror Directors of All Time

In honor of Halloween, here are 13 fascinating fright mavens who've made scary movies that much more meaningful.


British Jazz and Soul Artists Interpret the Classics on '​Blue Note Re:imagined'

Blue Note Re:imagined provides an entrance for new audiences to hear what's going on in British jazz today as well as to go back to the past and enjoy old glories.

Collapse Expand Reviews

Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.