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The Village

Sun Mar 31, 9-10pm, BBC1

Series one, episode one
Seen through the eyes of charming centenarian Bert Middleton, 1914 was ‘the year the bus came’. It doesn’t sound like much but previously, the harsh Peak District village of the title had been an insular place. With the bus, comes a beautiful stranger who recalibrates the horizons of the local men. But will she be swayed by the charms of the poshos at The Big House?

The likeliest comparison for this epic new BBC series is ‘Downton Abbey’. But on the basis of this first episode, ‘The Village’ will be a tougher but much more sentient beast. As we meet the pre-pubescent Bert, he and his family are poverty-stricken and miserable. John Simm is his usual gloweringly intense self as young Bert’s bitter, boozy, bully of a father. Meanwhile, mother Grace (Maxine Peake) holds the family together and Bert looks up adoringly to his big brother Joe.

But check the date. The outside world is about to impose itself on rural England in a devastatingly insistent way. Simultaneously dreamily evocative and brutally earthy, ‘The Village’ could become a Sunday night fixture with all the finesse of ‘Downton…’ and none of the distracting gloss.