TV review: Outlander, Amazon Prime Instant Video
Diana Gabaldon's historical romance receives its long overdue UK premiere
Based on a series of novels by Diana Gabaldon and adapted for TV by Ronald D Moore (best known for his work on the reboot of Battlestar Gallactica) the much anticipated Outlander finally gets its UK premiere courtesy of Amazon Prime Instant Video, who continue to set themselves up as a genuine rival to Netflix with this latest acquisition.
1945 and nurse Claire Randall (Caitriona Balfe) stands dripping in blood as the news of Victory in Europe greets her. Separated from her husband, Frank Randall (Tobias Menzies), for the last five years they head to Inverness for a second honeymoon. A chance to rebuild their relationship and begin their lives anew after the horrors of World War II. However dark omens hang over their trip to the Highlands, black cockerel blood is daubed on local doorways, mysterious figures lurk in the shadows as the ancient Halloween date of Samhain approaches. After stumbling upon a pagan ritual within a circle of standing stones, bang, 40 minutes into episode one Claire is transported 200 years back in time.
She awakes dazed and confused stranded in the middle of the Jacobite Rebellion. Almost immediately running into Frank's ancestor Black Jack Randall (also played by Menzies) Commander of the Red Coats, who couldn't be more different from her thoughtful husband. Now trapped in 1743 she finds herself rescued/kidnapped by local clans men. Her medical skills come in handy fixing the arm of dishy Celtic warrior Jamie Fraser (Sam Heughan). A Sassenach amongst the Scottish clans is a dangerous position to find yourself in but as the series progresses Claire finds herself torn between two loves as a tentative romance blossoms with Jamie.
Comparisons to Game of Thrones are a little disingenuous, Outlander is more of a straightforward historical love story, which Thronites might find slight after the political intrigue and battlefields of Westeros. Claire is very much the central character, her narration guiding us through this trip to 18th century Scotland. Balfe she's no damsel in distress, intelligent, pragmatic and assertive she even takes her displacement through time in her stride. Ably supported by an assortment of great British character actors (including Graham McTavish, Gary Lewis, Stephen Walters and Annette Badland) while Menzies seems to relish his dual roles as evil baddie and sympathetic husband in the regular flashbacks to the future (time travel can be complicated).
The Scottish backdrop is an essential component, both imposing and otherworldly, to the tone and atmosphere of Outlander. While it does contain some nudity and violence don't expect the blood, guts, gore and rampant sexuality of Starz last period piece Spartacus (though to be fair pretty much everything feels tame compared to Spartacus). Outlander may lack grit but it's a refreshing change of pace, boasting fantastic production values, solid acting and a strong female protagonist, that should carve its own romantic niche in the TV landscape.
The first eight episodes of Outlander will be available on Amazon Prime Instant Video from Thu 26 Mar, with further episodes available each week from 5 Apr.