A Vase of One’s Own
If you are an heterosexual male, skip this review or read at your own peril: did you know that your wife/girlfriend’s ultimate fantasy was to get raped by a skirt-wearing hunk on the moors? Well, now you do. Welcome to Highland Romance, a specific chick-lit form which now trrranslate to yourrr TV screen, courrrtesy of Starz. Outlandish it is, morrre a political manifesto in the context of this Brrrexit week than just rrromance: Scottish do it better, by Jove!
Scotland, Scotland, Scotland, 1945. Reunited Claire Randall (Caitriona Balfe, aye!) and hubby Jack (Tobias Menzies, in between two Games of Thrones appearances) take a second post-WW2 honeymoon. She was a war nurse and he, a history teacher, fighted bravely for freedom, democracy, and the Crown, “making doodles everywhere”, which does not sound exactly like the Somme Front. He nevertheless came back psychologically wounded and is not ready to consume their union again, in a very British, anti-sexual stance. Yes, she will soon be spirited away to 18th century Highlands and find solace with a skirted hunk, but hold your horses. There is a lot of exposition to go through first.
Empty vessel Claire is first glimpsed as a child gazing at a shop window and Freudianly musing if someday she will have her own vase. And something to put in it, one guesses. This is the start for an abundant voice-over which contrivance is only matched by its awkwardness, two characteristics also presiding over dialogues. “I had no idea Inverness was such a hot bed of contemporary paganism”, she chuckles after a mild argument about the Old Testament. Checking in at their B&B, jack delivers a crash course in Scottish folklore. Halloween is quoted as an exemple how “the Church took pagan holidays and rename it for their own purpose”, which establishes that there is no historian in the writing team, even though Jack is one. One means, there is exposition and there is exposition. This is definitely exposition.
There is a vague project of “renewing the family tree”, but our heroes are not exactly hot as coal. In a very awkward scene, they kiss standing on the bed, her willfully, him half-heartedly, and when she attempts to go down on him he kneels down too. They then jump on the bed like toddlers, to which the inn keeper smiles benignantly, recognising the healthy sound of marital sex. He asks her “Happy?”. Ahem.
And it goes on and on, in the most constipated way possible: “I learnt to build latrines and lots of other things not suitable for a young lady of gentle birth”, she voices over. One clutched his pearls in horror. Fortunately, she “develops a keen interest in botany”, which is much more proper. At this point, one wondered if anything would ever happen under the tea-cosy. Fear not. It won’t.
Jack still enjoys doodling: he draws his wife’s palm. Excuse me, again? The inn keeper has to be a palm reader and she has never seen one quite like that before: Claire has two life lines! Isn’t that OMINOUS? Yet she feels “a bath is in order” and he pinches his nose (insert your own fart joke here). There is a ghostly manifestation, to which she reacts with “You look like you’ve seen a ghost”, in a case study of “Moron States The Obvious”. Suddenly sex is great again. “Jesus H. Roosevelt Christ”, she charmingly utters. Wait, what?
Some form of Enya nicely complement images provided by the Scottish Board of Tourism, and they venture to “the Ring of Prophecy”, where a druidic ritual is performed “so the sun can rise”, making one wonders if the thing is happening every day. It’s all very decent, a bunch of women (among which, of course, the inn keeper) in white dresses whirling with flowers in their hair and chanting. The couple discreetly retreats before they disturb the proceedings.
But, but, remember, Claire and her keen interest in botany? She’s puzzled by a blue flower she noticed in the Ring of Prophecy so she gets back there, appropriately dressed in a timeless white dress, touches a stone, and fades to black. While she’s out she has an unexplainable flashback to a car accident, apparently involving a… piano. She wakes up, having mysteriously lost her too-40s-for-the-18th-century crocodile belt, and wanders on the moor, doing a quite good impersonation of Kate Bush in her video for The Sensual World. Yes!
Accepting she has travelled back in time is no biggie after an attempted rape by her husband’s evil twin, a Sergeant Captain of Dragoons. She’s rescued by a Scottish guy, who knowingly asserts that “she’s not a whoorrrre”. She concurs “I am a nurse. Not a wet nurse!”. This is rather gracious innuendo.
Enter the hunk, Jaimie Fraser (Sam Heughan, hunky) whose wounded shoulder she tends to. She also saves the merry Scottish band from a British embuscade. it rains or it doesn’t, according to the camera angle. She finds refuge in Ye Olde Castle. “So far I have been assaulted, kidnapped and almost raped but somehow I know my journey has only just begun”, she voice-overs, counting her blessings.
If your thing is Heritage bodice-ripping romance, this one is for you. If you are a perv getting a kick out of bad dialogue, this is a gold mine. For all others, the present reviewer included, life’s too short.