Based on Diana Gabaldon’s best-selling book series, Outlander follows Claire Randall, a married combat nurse who, in 1946, is mysteriously swept back in time to Scotland 1743 and immediately thrown into a life-threatening and dangerous world. When, after being forced by circumstantial fate, she is forced to marry Jamie Fraser, an outlawed Highlander, she finds herself falling in love and torn by her loyalties to two men in different vastly different time periods. Along her journey, Claire tries to reconcile her modern mindset with the 18th century world, whilst dealing with threats from the ruthless Redcoats led by monstrous Captain Jack Randall (her future husband’s earliest ancestor), volatile clan politics and a brutal witch hunt – and ultimately discovering a fate worse than death as she struggles to save Jamie’s heart, as well as his soul.
When described on paper, you would start to question it and whether this would make compelling TV drama, but “Jesus H. Roosevelt Christ” (as Claire would say) they pulled it off with style. This is basically an adventure/romantic/semi-historical drama that initially starts off at a solid pace and continues in that pace with flying colours without ever becoming boring or stale, which usually tends to happen with TV shows. This is a show that’s constantly evolving, adapting, and changing with each episode, and even though there are a few moments when the drama tends to jump back and forth between 1743 and 1946, the narrative still continued strongly till the very end of the season. Many different characters are introduced here and there, yet you can easily become attached to these characters as the show benefits greatly in providing strong characterisation with equally strong character development.
One incredibly strong factor this show has in spades is in its casting. Catriona Balfe is pretty much in near every single damn scene of the entire series, and never once did she falter. Balfe is pretty much the centre of the show, and throughout she magnificently conveyed the compassion, integrity, stubbornness and vulnerability the character of Claire required, and as a result, her beautifully complex performance made us invested in her and the journey she’s going through. The same can also be said for Sam Heughan, who perfectly captures Jaimie’s courageousness, earnestness, and ferocity, plus his chemistry with Balfe is consistently electrifying and the show’s key success. Tobias Menzies portrays his dual roles splendidly and did an amazing job of making the nihilistic Captain Jack Randall a truly horrifying and disturbing villain.
The supporting cast are also incredibly solid, including Lotte Verbeek, Graham McTavish and Laura Donnelly, who is a particular standout as the no-nonsense Jenny Fraser. Scotland was a really a character of its own in this show, and the location shooting is simply sublime with vast, sweeping vistas of the Highlands being a certain mark of high quality, and adds greatly to the epic scope and size of the story. Everything else, from the costumes, the production design, the cinematography to the atmospheric score adds immensely into making that world believably rich and dense.
Many people will no doubt compare this to Game of Thrones, but Outlander is an entirely different beast from its Westeros counterpart. Its fist season took us through many uncharted paths and turns along the journey, but it succeeds in creating a well-done, epic adventure that is benefited strongly by a sweeping and beautifully designed world, top-notch performances (particularly Balfe, Heughan and Menzies) and a strong story that has real pace and consistency. An outstanding debut on almost every level.
OUTLANDER: SEASON 1 / CERT: 18 / CREATOR: RONALD D. MOORE / DIRECTOR & SCREENPLAY: VARIOUS / STARRING: CAITRIONA BALFE, SAM HEUGHAN, TOBIAS MENZIES, DUNCAN LACROIX, GRANT O’ROURKE / RELEASE DATE: OUT NOW