Jericho review: Can it fill a Downton Abbey-sized hole in our hearts?
The Western is a genre that has traditionally been associated with American television, but that might be about to change. ITV’s ambitious new period drama Jericho is the tale of a Western-style town in nineteenth century Yorkshire, which incorporates all the Western cliches: sheriffs, fights, and characters running from justice. Jericho has a British twist, however. It quickly stamps its mark with the usage of the very same Upstairs Downstairs class dynamic that helped make Downton Abbey so popular. Can it even come close to filling the Downton Abbey sized hole in our hearts, however?
Jericho stars Jessica Raine (Fortitude, Wolf Hall, Call the Midwife) as Annie Quaintain, a woman who is forced to move with her two children to the small viaduct-building settlement of Jericho when her husband’s debts leave her nowhere else to go. With no skills useful to building a viaduct, Annie opens a lodgings for navvy labourers. She soon discovers that her own secrets are small compared to those she now lives alongside.
Raine as Annie is strange casting, as she looks ridiculously young for someone who is supposed to have borne a child the age of Amy James-Kelly, who is 20 in real life. I understand that glamorous casting is a loathed but apparently vital feature of television and film, but this was so much so that I found it distracting. Raine does the job, however, amicably enough. She stars alongside the attractive Hans Matheson (Tess of the D’Urbervilles, Doctor Zhivago, The Tudors) as Johnny Jackson, a navvy who seems contractually obligated to a disproportional number of shirtless scenes. Former Coronation Street actress Amy James-Kelly plays Annie’s daughter Martha, but we don’t really see enough of her during the first episode to form an opinion on her acting skills outside of the soap. Martha’s brother George (Sam Bottomley) however, takes centre stage in an exciting twist that will almost certainly haunt Annie and Johnny and the family.
The decidedly middle class characters include Charles Blackwood, played by Daniel Rigby (Black Mirror, From There to Here), an entrepreneur who has invested in building the railway viaduct. He’s unfortunately run into trouble with the funding of his vision, and is fairly unremarkable. However, this might be because he spends most of the first episode beside the fantastic Jeany Spark as Isabella, a wonderfully capable, intelligent businesswoman in an era that does not appreciate her. She could be one of the non-joke Apprentice candidates, and easily brings the sparkle to the Upstairs storylines.
One of the most intriguing characters is the enigmatic Ralph Coates, played by Clarke Peters (The Wire, Jessica Jones, Treme), an African-American who takes a position as foreman after a little trickery. A person of colour in a British period drama is refreshing (and yes, they did exist in 1870), but Coates is far more than ticking boxes. He is shady, intelligent and a puzzle I can’t wait to explore.
I loved the glorious shots of the Yorkshire Dales, a loving homage to a truly remarkable part of the country. I sincerely hope this raises tourism, because the Dales are a place of beauty that everyone ought to witness.
The first episode is a whopping hour and a half, but packed to the brim with twists and turns to keep viewers engaged and had me wondering where the time went at the final credits. It’s dare-I-say-it reminiscent of the early excitement that Downton Abbey caused. There are murders, a gunpowder plot, fights aplenty and so many secrets one wonders if a ten series commission would be enough to explore all that has been hinted at. Indeed, there are far too many characters to care about at this point, each with different plots and motives. It’s exhausting to keep track of, and only time will tell if this will be the breaking of a good show or something that contributes to its success (again, like Downton Abbey). Jericho has a whole lot of promise, certainly, but we won’t be holding our breath for success on a Downton Abbey scale.
Jericho airs on Thursdays at 9pm on ITV.