Tuesday, January 19, 2010

London: a terrible and awesome mistress

The 1750s were a dangerous time in London. Crime was rampant and there was no real organized police force to deal with the problem. Enter the brothers Henry and John Fielding. Henry was already a well-known author of such works as Tom Jones and Joseph Andrews. Younger brother John had been blind since the age of 19. The two decided to form a small group of "runners" to investigate crimes. The Bow Street Runners became the origin of the modern police force and how the group came into being is the focus of a short-lived TV series called City of Vice.

The Fielding brothers might claim to be worried about the lawless streets, but the crimes they are most concerned with in this series involve sex. The first four episodes (out of a total of 5) dealt with children in brothels, murdered prostitutes in bath houses, "molly houses" (where homosexual men congregated), and the rape of an upper class woman. People couldn't walk down the street without being assaulted and mugged, but the early police force was only concerned with sex (or so you would be forgiven for thinking from watching this series).

The two main characters are very likable and flawed. Henry is terribly troubled by the fact that he impregnated his maid and that she is now is wife. All of society seems to know about the scandal and the fact that his son was born only a few short months after their hasty wedding. John is simultaneously in awe of his brother and exasperated at always being in his shadow. The general misery of the London poor is illustrated to great effect, but for all that, the Fielding brothers seem perplexed as to why anyone, even someone who is starving and has no options, would resort to crime. They have little patience with the circumstances that might drive someone to a life a crime. Their only concern is with tracking down the guilty parties and punishing them.

I was a bit surprised to see Nigel Harman (Dennis from Eastenders) playing a character that was waaaaayyy against type for him. I guess Steve McFadden was busy.

All in all, I enjoyed the series. For a costume drama, there were an awful lot of unexpected four letter words being thrown about. It seemed the language was "spiced up" only for the surprise factor, because even though the subject matter was somewhat risque, the dialog was not until Henry Fielding suddenly and unexpectedly had a colorful outburst. Too bad there was only one series of the show. It would have been interesting to see if the Fielding brothers ever got around to investigating anything other than sexual crimes.

Final Verdict for City of Vice: Four Gherkins, for being an enjoyable look at a dangerous time in London's history

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