|Starz TV Tie -In|
I first read Outlander twenty-four years ago and I’ve since lost count just how many times I’ve reread it, thirty times, possibly even more. It's my ‘go to’ book, my comfort blanket, it’s in the air that I breathe and it is written into my bones. I can fast forward; slow mo, freeze frame, rewind and repeat at whim and the characters in my head are very much alive. I see them, feel the air surround them, carry their thoughts on the wind and hold them close. I like to think they are mine.
When I first heard that Outlander was being brought to life, I worried that my interpretation would be ruined by someone else’s imagination, and that somehow the story would lose something integral in the quest to pull in a TV audience. Of course, no matter how many times I heard that that the script was to be sympathetic to the original, I wasn’t going to be reassured until I could see it for myself. After all, I wanted it to, not just look right; it had to feel right. I needed more than just a fleeting glimpse of the Outlander story that had lived inside my head for twenty four years. I wanted to live it, breathe it, feel the visceral pull of it and fall in love with it all over again. And, despite being shared with millions around the world, I had to feel like the story was being retold, just for me.
Listening to the opening music, seeing the credits, noting the names of the many actors who would make or break this story, I was filled with a sense of trepidation, as so many 'what ifs' and variables existed.
What if, I didn’t like it, ...what if , I didn’t believe the actors,...what if , it looked like Scotland had been turned into an eighteenth century caricature of itself?
I didn’t want mushy music and haggis; I wanted haunting uilleann bagpipes and fiddles. I wanted dirt and danger. I wanted stunning scenery and tumbling rivers, peat coloured heather and fast ridden horses. I wanted day-time, night-time, Jacobites and rebels, blood, sweat, tears and the cries of passionate lovemaking, and more than anything else, I wanted a red haired warrior with fire in soul and love in his heart.
I think more than any other thing, finding the right characters worried me the most. I’ve carried my own vision of Claire, Jamie, Frank and Jack Randall in my head, and so to match my ideal, they had to be realistic to the point where they ceased to be actors and became the characters in my head.
Claire, so quintessentially English with her clipped vowels, was going to be a hard match. She had to be both wild and mindful, sassy and arrogant, impetuous and reckless and more than any other thing she had to be a match for any eighteenth century man…. and boy, does she meet her match.
I didn’t know if a young Irish actress would be able to be my Claire, but within minutes of Caitriona Balfe stepping onto the screen in the opening episode, I saw Claire. She was right there in front of me, just as if she had stepped right out of my head. I felt her desperation and finally understood the fear and confusion of a woman trapped in the wrong time with only a futile hope of a return to the future. And I watched in awe as she fell in love with Jamie Fraser.
Frank and Jack Randall; are the two opposite sides of the same coin. Smart, urbane Frank, head in an eighteenth century history book, wrapped up in the romantic notion that his Jacobite ancestor was someone to be revered, when in fact the reality of ‘Black’ Jack Randall is the dark and deviant opposite of all that is good. I thought no man would ever be able to capture the darkness in his soul but I was oh, so wrong. Tobias Menzies, is the suave sophisticated Frank to the very soles of his 1940s brogues and in the swish of his mackintosh and yet, it is in his portrayal of Black Jack where he truly excels. He is both master and commander, with a soul as deep and as boundless as the pits of hell, and he makes my blood curdle.
And then, there’s Jamie, my red haired warrior. How on earth was any actor going to be able to conjure the essence of this man for me? For so long I have carried a combination of faces, snippets of voices, a look, a glance, a flash of colour, an element of surprise. I have searched for Jamie in the narrow alleyways of Edinburgh, sought him out in ancient Scottish castles, imagined him in the heather of the highlands and touched the standing stones that litter my landscape in the hope of crossing through time, but never had I properly seen his face until Sam Heughan stepped on screen. And there he was, my kilted highland warrior, with his heart of gold and arteries of steel, and yet, there was also an aching vulnerability, and I could see glimpses of the boy, in the twenty three year old, who was also an exile, a man with a price on his head, who had nothing to protect himself and his love except an empty gun and his own two hands.
Of course, there are always going to be the purists who wanted the Outlander production to stay exactly the same as the original manuscript but like all adapted stories it needed to work for television and for that changes had to be made into the story for it to make sense to an audience who couldn’t write a thesis on the Outlander phenomenon. And, so I won’t get into the rigmarole of nit-picking and saying that… “This didn’t happen there and that didn’t go there and she didn’t say that and he wasn’t in it”… ad infinitum,…. but what I will acknowledge is the gift of a story, which is both beautifully filmed and visually stunning, sumptuously costumed and so expertly managed that my Outlander lives and breathes, and yes, I did fall in love with the story all over again, and believe me after twenty four years and copious rereads that’s no mean feat.
Season one has now ended its dramatic TV run and the countdown has already begun to Season two....Dragonfly in Amber is currently in production. I can't wait.