What I’m Watching: ‘TURN – Washington’s Spies’

I love a period drama. Ask anyone who knows me. I think it started with the wonderful Andrew Davies screen adaptation of Pride & Prejudice in the 90s and I’ve never looked back. So when I had more or less exhausted every period drama on Netflix, Amazon Prime, and anywhere else I could find, I thought TURN: Washington’s Spies might be worth a watch.

TURN charts the true life story of the 17th century settlements on the colonial eastern seaboard of America and, of course, spies. It’s not my usual bag, I’ll admit. I’d much prefer Georgian England or poverty stricken Victoriana.

Roughly speaking, we’re talking George Washington and his mates versus the British, and a lot of double dealing in between. No seriously, four seasons worth of spying. Remember when you first started watching 24 and you thought it was the best show ever, then a few seasons in it dawns on you that its just the same story with just slightly different bombs and baddies with different accents? Well that, but with ponytails and buckled shoes.

That said, a good spy plot is enough to get me hooked, and even though a brief google suggested that perhaps TURN isn’t exactly historically accurate (the Culper ring was a real thing, but the show mostly a drama loosely based on some real life events) I stayed the course. Not without some effort on my part, I might add, because as much as I love Jamie Bell (who I’ve always thought should play Tom Holland’s brother in something, don’t you?) his unidentifiable accent as cabbage farmer turned spy Abraham Woodhull was nonsensical and very offputting.

I get that they’re playing settlers. That the accents at the time, in a melting pot of Europeans in a ‘new’ world would lead to some peculiar twangs (thing Daniel Day Lewis in Gangs of New York) but nah, I’ve not having that and English Protestant settler in Long Island would have a semi Irish accent.

There were a couple of British military toffs in it who I really enjoyed, played by Burn Gorman (who I really enjoyed in the 2005 BBC adaption of Charles Dickens Bleak House – another Andrew Davies job) and JJ Feild (who, despite the ridiculous spelling of his name was a charming Henry Tilney in Northanger Abbey – wait, what? Another Andrew Davies screenplay you say? Well fancy that – and that, since I am in the habit of casting actors as siblings in imaginary projects, would make a fine brother for Tom Hiddleston if you ask me).

Without them, you’re left with a lot of characters it’s hard to like. You need to have a lot of patience, either little prior knowledge of colonial American history (or loads, if you enjoy spotting historical inaccuracies), and a high tolerance for talk about cabbages. This is one series I won’t be re-watching in a box set comfort binge in future.

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