The Outcast – BBC 1

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Oh dear, I can’t make up my mind what I thought of this! I haven’t read the book so I don’t know how faithfully the TV adaptation reflects that, but it was very well-written and well-acted … but so, so miserable and depressing! On Sunday nights I want Heartbeat and Born and Bred, or Downton Abbey. This was all rather miserable. Brilliantly done miserable, though, like a Merchant Ivory adaptation of an EM Forster novel but set in the 1950s rather than the Edwardian era. Just … well, miserable.

It started off with the father of Lewis Aldridge, the main character, returning from the Second World War. Gilbert Aldridge, the father, was your stock upper-middle-class repressed father type, unable to communicate emotionally, insistent on sending his son away to boarding school, etc … except that I didn’t think he was actually that bad. He clearly loved his wife, and he wasn’t all that bad to Lewis. He said “You’re my little boy,” when Lewis had just thrown a strop and smashed the windows, which I thought was quite sweet of him. Anyway, rather than the dad adapting to family life after being returning from war stuff, we then got these Enid Blyton-esque scenes of carefree well-to-do children bicycling down idyllic English country lanes on beautiful summer’s days when it never rained and their world was thought to be such a safe place that parents didn’t worry about their kids being out unsupervised. I was half-expecting a picnic with lashings of ginger beer; but, instead, Lewis went on a picnic with his mum. She dived into the river … and drowned.

So Lewis was deeply emotionally scarred, and things got even worse when his father remarried. He got into trouble at school, and started self-harming. Meanwhile, his stepmother was also deeply unhappy because she was unable to conceive. The neighbours all thought Lewis was weird, and, when his friend Kit tried to stick up for him, her father – another stock upper-middle-class repressed type, but far worse than Mr Aldridge –thrashed her with his belt. Then Lewis – older Lewis, incidentally, was played by George MacKay from the wonderful Sunshine on Leith – burnt down the local church, and got sent to prison.

That would definitely never have happened in an Enid Blyton book with picnics with lashings of ginger beer.

It was a brilliant portrayal of repression and constraints and inclusion and exclusion in an upper-middle-class British community in the 1950s, and of emotional damage and suffering. It really was. It was just very miserable; and most people like a bit of escapism of a Sunday evening. That’s not the programme’s fault, though. Oh well.

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