Review: The Crimson Field

cast of The Crimson Field

The Crimson Field is a 6 episode series from the BBC. It aired in the UK in 2014 and is now available on Amazon Video, iTunes, and possibly from PBS On Demand. It’s about a British field hospital on the coast of France in World War I and the nurses and volunteers who care for the men there.

Marianne Oldham as Rosalie, Oona Chaplin as Kitty and Alice St. Clair as Flora in The Crimson Field
Marianne Oldham as Rosalie, Oona Chaplin as Kitty and Alice St. Clair as Flora

The story begins when 3 volunteers arrive at the field hospital. They are Rosalie Berwick, Kitty Trevelyan and Flora Marshall. Later, another new arrival wheels in by motorcycle – Sister Joan Livesey (Suranne Jones). I’m big a fan of Suranne Jones because of Scott & Bailey; seeing her climb off that motorcycle was a thrill! All these women have great parts. Kitty and Joan are the outspoken ones, the rule breakers.

You know a woman on a motorcycle 100 years ago in class-bound British society would cause a stir, and Joan does. Nobody quite knows what to think of her.

The rebellious Kitty regularly disregards the orders of Matron Grace Carter (Hermione Norris) and Sister Margaret Quayle (Kerry Fox). I was cheering for Joan and Kitty from the first moment.

The characters we get to know best in the 6 episodes (there doesn’t appear to be a series 2 of The Crimson Field) are Joan, Kitty, and Matron Grace. We learn some of their backstory and life history. Joan is in love with a German she met before the war started. He is in France and their relationship causes problems. Kitty was married to an abusive man and has a 6 year old daughter she isn’t allowed to see. Grace’s background is less defined but she grew up in India.

There are many interesting characters in the story. Sisters, nurses, doctors, patients, army officers. Names you may recognize are Alex Wyndham, Jack Gordon, Karl Davies, Rupert Graves and many others.

Oona Chaplin as Kitty in The Crimson Field
Kitty in front of one of the hospital tents, where beds are waiting for the injured.

Kitty and the doctor Thomas Gillian (Richard Rankin) struggle to have a romantic relationship. It builds slowly until the end of episode 6 – Kitty has a lot of baggage to deal with first.

Kevin Doyle’s character, the Colonel in charge of running the hospital, is an interesting man. He’s kind and fair and out of place in the black and white, them and us world of war.

Sister Margaret Quayle (Kerry Fox) is wonderfully evil – a superb villain. Her performance reminded me a bit of Pamela Rabe’s terrifying performance in the Australian prison drama Wentworth. Jeremy Swift as the Quartermaster is another antagonist – he’s a greedy bastard.

If you aren’t of a certain age, you probably don’t remember Geraldine Chaplin, but it is unmistakable how much Oona Chaplin looks like her mother. That has nothing to do with this series, just that I can’t help noticing it whenever I see Oona Chaplin in something.

There were some beautifully shot scenes in the series. A scene with the men playing soccer (excuse me, football) on the beach was gorgeous. A scene with Kitty stripping off her outer layers of clothing and going into the ocean was brilliantly done. She came out covered almost from head to toe with wet underwear (OMG, what women used to have to put on every day) and gave the peeking Thomas a steady stare that was electrifying.

The Crimson Field was created and written by Sarah Phelps. She created good characters, plenty of plot twists, and set it in a time and place that guaranteed drama. We aren’t subjected to any of the fighting but do see plenty of blood around the hospital.

In summary, an excellent series. I enjoyed it completely.

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