The Outcast, BBC One’s new romantic period drama, is based on the novel by Sadie Jones and adapted by Jones herself.
Set against the backdrop of the post-World War 2 English countryside, we are introduced to Lewis Aldridge, a child whose tragic life circumstances led to him becoming the titular outcast of this two-part drama.
After witnessing his mother drown in a tragic swimming accident and being left in the care of his distant father (played to morose perfection by Greg Wise) who quickly remarries, Lewis’ life sets out on a downward spiral, as no-one takes the time to recognise his grief, loss and pain.
“You listen to me, very, very carefully… Do not make your mother’s death an excuse…ever. That would be like losing her all over again, do you understand?”
Despite its picturesque setting, The Outcast deals with themes still relevant today including under-age sex and drinking, parental irresponsibility and teenage bullying. However, it is Lewis’ self-harming that it most worrying and brutally realised.
One particular scene, where Lewis slices with forearm with a shaving razor, is so vivid I actually had to look away, yet it clearly demonstrates the internalised pain of the central character. Instead of being seen as the cry for help he so desperately needs to be recognised, these actions only seem to distance him further from those who could be helping.
“You can’t expect special treatment. It’s not our fault about your poor Mama. It’s not our fault she was drunk!”
Credit must go to both actors playing Lewis at the two stages of his life shown here. Newcomer Finn Elliot’s naivety and innocent appearance make you feel for the youngster, especially given his father’s continuous scorn and the whispering judgement of the locals. As the adult Lewis, Pride actor George Mackay’s blank stares, awkward physicality and irrational outbursts portray the sort of genuine imbalance of someone who has never grown up with sustained affection and familial support.
The ladies of the piece also offer major gravitas to the episode. Hattie Morahan, as Lewis’ mother Lizzie, illustrates a strongly maternal and loving individual, which makes it much more harrowing when she dies suddenly and creates a stark contrast to the life and lack of parental love that Lewis receives afterwards.
As Alice, the new Mrs Aldridge, Downton Abbey star Jessica Brown Findlay is captivating as well. Brown brings a complexity and sympathy to the role that feels expanded upon from what was scripted. Jessica Barden as Kit Carmichael, Lewis’ childhood friend, is also very endearing as the unrefined and feisty youngster who seems to be the only one in support of Lewis.
Despite its darkness, it’s a beautiful piece of television, directed lovingly by Iain Softley (Inkheart) with a truly cinematic flair and artistic, dream-like camerawork. Stand-out scenes include the watery grave sequence as Lewis discovers his mother’s body underwater and struggles to free her, or the striking image of Lewis’ Frankenstein-esque frame silhouetted against the church that he has set ablaze.
The Outcast has the perfect combination of period detail with some distinctly modern touches that set it apart from the usual BBC period fare and Softley’s creative eye is a huge part of the appeal.
By the opening episode’s end, with Lewis’ involvement in the church fire common knowledge, he is sentenced to two years imprisonment. Next weekend’s concluding part will no doubt pick up from his release as he struggles to find a place in the society that he was already alienated from.
The Outcast shows superbly how one event in a person’s life can shape how their story will unfold and, given how strongly the story has started, one can only hope that Lewis has some closure to his troubled life in one way or another.
Aired at 9pm on Sunday 12 July 2015 on BBC One.
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