Image by Wenham-Wonderland; source Flickr
By now, you may have heard that the BBC has no plans for the historical drama Banished to return for a second series. The 7-part drama, written by Jimmy McGovern and Shaun Duggan, and co-commissioned by BBC2 and BBC Worldwide Australia and New Zealand, aired over March and April. My historical drama quota was, at the time, filled by its BBC1 competitor, Poldark. So, having just finished watching this stunning example of British drama on dvd, I did what I always do: I went online to find out more about the series and, crucially, plans for a second run.
`…A sad day for drama.`
I was certain there would be a second series of Banished, given the quality of the first – it was more a matter of how long will I have to wait? I was shocked to discover this Tweet by Russell Tovey, who played convict, James Freeman:
— russell tovey (@russelltovey) May 5, 2015
Why? Well, I’m sure I’m not the only one wondering that.
It can’t be because of the quality of the drama.
Jimmy McGovern (The Street, Accused), is renowned for writing thought-provoking dramas, grounded in social realism. Banished is set in the Australian outback rather than urban northern England, but that signature gritty realism has certainly translated to McGovern’s story of the 18th Century British convicts transported to New South Wales.
Image by Wenham-Wonderland; source: Flickr
Photo: Governor Arthur Phillips (David Wenham: Lord of the Rings) & Major
Ross (Joseph Millson), on the beach – where so much of the drama takes place.
This post is not so much an in-depth review of Banished, as a comment on the BBC’s decision to axe the series. I also want to avoid spoilers, so, I will not detail any of the many intense, emotionally-charged scenes in Banished here. I will say that this is a drama that explores universal themes – relatable themes around the human condition. Themes that cannot fail to draw you in.
McGovern commented that he would always write about characters who know the right thing to do, but find the price of doing it is too high to pay. That, you might say, is a central theme of Banished.
McGovern also made intelligent and considered writing and creative choices. One notable example is the fact that though the indigenous populous of New South Wales are a presence we are constantly reminded of during Banished, McGovern made the brave choice that we, the audience, would never actually meet them. This was a conscious decision, made to avoid the inevitable tokenism of briefly featuring aborigines as backdrop to the convict’s story. He wanted to afford the Aboriginal story of the formation of Australia sensitivity and, as much depth as he has afforded his depiction of Australia’s first penal colony. An important aspect of this unfinished story, which would very likely have been a focus of the second series – one which we will now not see.
Image by Wenham-Wonderland; Source: Flickr
Banished is a work of fiction, blending real historical figures (plus a pinch of creative licence) with fictional characters. However, if, like me, you waited for the dvd and watched the `Behind the Scenes` extra, you’ll also have been impressed by the aesthetic authenticity of this production. From the sense of historical accuracy lent by the filming location, to the creation of a set which Joseph Millson (Major Ross) remarked, ought to become a museum.
According to the `Behind the Scenes` extra, the actors enjoyed an immersive experience – no blue screens to take their cues from on the Banished set. From the moment they stepped on set, the camera crew were the only reminder that they had not actually stepped back in time to Georgian-era Australia. Not surprising then, they all so easily inhabited their roles and have spoken with such passion about what those roles have meant to them as actors.
So why was it cancelled?
The BBC’s decision not to invest in a second series cannot be the result of the response of the British public to Banished. Look at the comments on Russell Tovey’s Twitter post and you will see how high feelings are running. #BringBackBanished. You can also see from IMDB that Banished has a solid 7.7 average rating.
How was Banished received in Australia?
The series will not air in Australia until June. According to TV Tonight – Australia’s leading TV blog, the airing of both Banished and the popular Tudor drama Wolf Hall has been delayed; `these delays come despite BBC declaring the channel would offer “first, fast and uninterrupted” content to Australian subscribers.`
Australian viewers also have reason to be disappointed in the BBC then. I hope the news that there will not be a second series of Banished will not deter Australian audiences from watching the drama when it reaches their screens in June.
In fact, if you are Australian and you’re reading this, please post a comment as I’m very curious to know how Banished is received in your part of the world!
As for those of us who have had the opportunity to see Banished…
This character-driven drama, with a heart-wrenching final episode is left with so many directions the story could still explore. Of course we want to see more!
Image by Wenham-Wonderland; source: Flickr
Excellent drama, well received by UK audiences…
Once more with feeling: WHY was Banished cancelled?
This is the BBC’s official line:
There are no current plans for Banished to return. We are very proud of the series and hugely grateful to all those who worked so hard on it. However, in addition to all its new titles, the BBC Two drama budget only allows for a limited number of returning dramas a year which means we have to make hard choices. (BBC2 Spokesperson)
Not overly impressed? Neither am I.
The BBC seem to be on a roll of late, making unpopular cuts to generate addition funds. Earlier this year, BBC3 cancelled popular supernatural drama In the Flesh. Now BBC3 itself is for the chop.
Image by University of Salford; source: Flickr
According to BBC News `BBC One drama is to receive a £30m boost from the closure of BBC Three as a TV channel…` Director General Tony Hall, went on to confirm:
…BBC Three would be moved to the iPlayer in autumn 2015, with its budget slashed from £85m to £25m. Lord Hall said moving the channel online was “the right thing to do” and also “financially necessary”. The proposal will create space for a BBC One +1 service and a one-hour evening extension of CBBC to 2000 GMT. “I want younger and less affluent audiences to be better served by the BBC. Younger audiences are increasingly moving online and on demand. The challenge is to take the brilliance of BBC Three into that world,” he said.
I can’t say I’m convinced. True, younger audiences are favouring online viewing. True, we want more funding for drama so that series like Banished will not be lost to budget cuts, but are we just being placated?
The future of quality online drama is not in low budget compromises. I’m a little cynical concerning the BBC’s assertion that moving BBC3 online (with a low budget) will better serve younger audiences. It seems quite convenient that this decision to follow the streaming trend coincides with the decision to cut a channel like BBC3. If they had a different, forward-looking direction in which to take BBC3, and made a strategic choice to move the channel online (rather than just being motivated by budget cuts), I might have more hope for the channel.
Surely, if the new strategy is to increase online content, this is an area to invest in, not just a way of salvaging an axed offline channel whilst dramatically slashing its budget online? Just a thought.
Nor am I overly impressed with the proposed BBC One +1 channel. I’m not anti the +1 option – it can come in handy when trying to manage a chock-a-block Tivo schedule – but do we really need it? More repeats when we already have iplayer for catch-up. Yes, most channels have a plus 1 option, but does that option (as well as an extra hour of CBBC) compensate for the loss of BBC3 as an on TV channel?
Well, I’ll reserve opinion for now. I’m waiting to see if there is a noticeable difference in the number of new quality dramas airing on BBC – and excellent existing dramas like Banished returning.
A celebrity-backed campaign began to try to save BBC3, so if you’re interested in knowing more, click the link. It also has some interesting info about the drawbacks of the plus 1 channel we have been promised.
Let me know what you think about what the BBC are cutting and promising. Do you feel you’re getting value for money from your TV licence? – especially when there is just so much in the way of great drama available online and on other channels?
Image by Wenham-Wonderland; source: Flickr
Is it really the end for Banished?
It seems so, though I truly hope not. Let’s keep our fingers crossed that Banished has merely been transported to drama-limbo, along with all the other great shows which currently lack a channel to air on, or funding to continue production.
There may still be hope of Banished catching the attention of Amazon. MyAnna Burly, who played convict Elizabeth Quinn, also starred in Ripper Street, a series which was dropped by the BBC then resurrected for a third series, courtesy of the deal the BBC made with Amazon Instant Video.
With so much support for Banished, let’s hope the BBC will see sense and give Banished a reprieve.
Just scroll to post comments, or if you’d like to take part in the historical drama poll.
(And here’s a link to a blog you might like to visit for more info about the content and themes of Banished.)
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