In Review

Jericho: Downton Abbey meets Deadwood in ITV drama

New series set in 1870s Yorkshire is a gripping tale of frontier life in Britain's industrial age

jericho.jpg

ITV's new period drama series Jericho has been called the new Downton Abbey by some commentators, while others compare it to the US western series Deadwood. What's it all about and why are critics hooked?

The eight-part drama, created and written by Sherlock writer Steve Thompson and directed by Paul Whittington, premiered on ITV last week. It is set in the fictional Jericho, a workers' shanty town in the Yorkshire Dales that springs up around the construction of the fictional Culverdale railway viaduct in the 1870s.

Jericho focuses on the community who live in the shadow of the bridge: Annie Quaintain (Call the Midwife's Jessica Raine) is a widow with teenage children escaping from her husband's debts, plus there's well-mannered navvy Johnny Jackson (Hans Matheson of The Tudors) and American railway agent Ralph Coates (Clarke Peters from The Wire). Sabotage, intrigue and secrets soon emerge.

While the critics' responses have been largely positive, some haven't quite known what to make of the show."When is a western not a western? When it's a northern," says Jasper Rees, in the Daily Telegraph.

"Jericho had all the appurtenances of a cowboy movie – sideburns, hosses, a saloon, a brothel," he adds. "I feel certain Clint Eastwood or John Wayne once rode into a two-bit town called Jericho."

Jericho has an "air of hybridity, of not quite knowing what it is – industrial costume drama?" continues the writer, before concluding: "Let's give a big ole yee-haw for Jericho's fearless ambition to be (slightly) different."

Thea Lenarduzzi in The Independent thinks it looks set to be "Downton for the HS2 generation". The series is being touted as a "British western" and it certainly has "the intrigue and historicity of Deadwood meets the industrial boom of Peaky Blinders", with "more grit and grunts than a packed third-class Victorian train carriage".

If what we've seen so far is anything to go by, adds Lenarduzzi, "that's a pretty gripping way to ride".

In fact, says her fellow Independent writer David Barnett, "it's quite faithful to an almost forgotten slice of history that saw the Yorkshire Dales transformed into a series of what were, essentially, frontier towns as harsh, tough and sometimes lawless as anything in the Wild West".

There was even a real Jericho, he adds, though it's thought the TV series is based more on the shanty town that built up around the Ribblehead Viaduct - Batty Wife Hole, named after a man who murdered his wife. "They missed a trick there," he says.

Jericho is "a sturdy step" if not a "flourish", writes Lucy Mangan in The Guardian.

"Visually, it's a bit suspect, a bit Downton-wi'-navvies," she adds. "The clothes, huts and warmhearted prostitutes all look a little too clean, the machinery a little too unbattered and the moors a little too unscathed, but no matter. The story's the thing, and there's plenty of that."

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