Tuesday, August 12, 2014

OUTLANDER: Season 1, Episode 1- SASSENACH

Like so many fans of Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander book series, I’ve been wishing for a feature film or TV series/mini-series/TV movie version of the books for nearly two decades. So when the STARZ series was announced I started following every press release, casting choice, etc. as I awaited the first episode. I’ll be honest, I questioned some of the choices along the way, wondered about some of the rumors I heard in regards to changes to the story, but in the end I held my breath and hoped for the best. After all, Ms. Gabaldon seemed happy enough with the way things were proceeding.

On Saturday night I was able to release that long-held breath and I am happy to say it did not disappoint.

I’ll start with the one thing Outlander fans were the most concerned about: the casting of Jamie Fraser and Claire Beauchamp Randall Fraser. Even Diana Gabaldon had reservations when she heard Sam Heughan had been cast as Jamie. She looked him up on Imdb and pronounced him “grotesque.” But after seeing just a few minutes of him as Jamie she was won over and has been supportive of the choice ever since.

As I watched on Saturday, and again this morning, I felt Sam projected the essence of Jamie. Of course he doesn’t look anything like the Jamie I imagine in my mind—to do so would be impossible. But he is close enough that I can easily suspend any disbelief. He’s strong and rugged, and yet already we can see glimpses of his gentle side. No, Sam isn’t tall enough. This 
Sam Heughan as Jamie Fraser: STARZ
was repeated several times by my friends as we watched together on Saturday. But I can live with it. He’s big and broad across the shoulders and looks strong. I’ll imagine him taller. Of course part of the height issue comes from the fact that Caitriona Balfe is too tall.

Next to Jamie, my biggest concern was how I’d feel about Ms. Balfe as Claire. And to be honest, the early reports from some people who watched it early were not encouraging. I went into my first viewing prepared to dislike her so much it might threaten to ruin things for me. But she won me over! Yes, she is far too wispy to be Claire, but Claire’s strength and no nonsense attitude come through loud and clear. I’m relieved and believe she will get even better as the series progresses. {Yes, she DOES need to learn to let it rip when she says, “Jesus H. Roosevelt Christ!”}

The rest of the casting is spot-on perfect, in my opinion, with Tobias Menzies as Frank/Black Jack and Graham McTavish as Dougal standing out from the rest of the excellent cast. Menzies IS Frank/Black Jack and McTavish IS Dougal.

Throughout the episode I had chills up and down my spine at all the right places, occasionally gasped, and laughed where I was supposed to laugh. Some fans have complained that there are scenes that differ from the book, but as I’ve heard Diana Gabaldon say, “It is an adaptation.” She usually goes on to explain that a book and a film are two different forms of media, and what works in one won’t necessarily work in the other. I felt that what I saw in this first episode was a true rendering of the beginning of her novel.

I can’t end this review without addressing a frequent complaint I’ve read on message boards. Many viewers, seemingly people who have NOT read the books, complained that the episode was slow and boring. Honestly, I don’t know how you can begin a 16 episode series based on a 1,000-page book without setting the scene and introducing the characters and circumstances in which Claire finds herself. I certainly did not find it slow or boring, in fact all of us viewing it together on Saturday evening couldn’t believe it when it was over—it seemed far too short.

Finally, the locations used were stunning—I love Scotland—the music was haunting, just as it should be, the attention to detail was impressive, and the overall experience was an excellent one.

I look forward to the rest of the series, and I’m so happy the two-decade wait is over. 

This review is very much centered on the general aspects of the episode as an introduction to the series. Future reviews will be much more specific to the storyline of each particular episode.

Come back next week to read what I think of episode 2.

Slàinte mhath!

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