A ruthless king smashes opponents with an iron fist. Forbidden love blooms between an outlaw and a lady. And an untamed frontier simmers with intrigue, greed, and murder. New Worlds follows the lives of four young people caught in the 1680s clash between England's autocratic King Charles II (Jeremy Northam, The Tudors) and rebels fighting for freedom and reform.
In England, rebel Abe (Jamie Dornan, Fifty Shades of Grey, The Fall) sparks a secret affair with the aristocratic Beth (Freya Mavor, Skins) and enlists her help to stoke opposition to the king. In Massachusetts, Ned Hawkins (Joe Dempsie, Game of Thrones), the son of a land baron, falls for plucky frontierswoman Hope (Alice Englert, Beautiful Creatures), but their love affair is swept up by conflicts between Indians, ruthless settlers, and agents of the crown.
This four-part miniseries sets political intrigue, action-packed adventure, and passionate romance against the historical backdrop of the Restoration, all brought to life in stunning location shoots and rich cinematography.
It can easily be said that we are currently living in a sort of "Television Renaissance." I wish I could claim to be the one to coin the term, but needless to say, over the last ten years the quality of television programing has increased by leaps and bounds as every year new shows and miniseries are released pushing the boundaries of content and production values creating entertainment that is often more visceral, engrossing, and ultimately more endearing than what can be found on movie screens. While the quality of programing may have gotten better, the old pitfalls that can ensnare a serie remain. Sometimes a show can be entirely too broad with too many thin characters for it's own good. A show like 'New Worlds' aims to reach epic dramatic story telling heights, but unfortunately sacrifices quality character development and clean story telling in favor of beautiful costumes and well constructed period scenery.
30 years after the British Civil War and the escapades of Oliver Cromwell and the death of King Charles I, England is on the brink of a second civil war. King Charles II (Jeremy Northam) is hell bent on punishing anyone involved with or associated with the Catholic conspiracy that lead to the death of his father. As sympathizers are hunted down throughout England, the Massachusetts colonies are sucked into the conflict as men like William Goffe (James Cosmo) have fled to the new world hoping to escape English persecution. Only trouble has followed them across the ocean bringing with it a tide of stricter English laws that aim to put a stranglehold on any uprising within the colonies. One man is tasked with regaining control of England and the Colonies, Judge Jeffreys (Pip Carter), and he will do anything and everything he can to achieve his goals. He'll even go so far as to employ blackmail and murder.
In England the tumultuous happens are on the brink of breaking a fragile peaceful existence Angelica Fanshawe (Eve Best) has carved for herself and her family. The first crack in the mold comes in the form of a team of poachers lead by the son of William Goffe, Abe (Jamie Dornan). Abe is a trained physician but is unable to treat the sick and wounded due to his father being a regicide. Because of his father's actions, Abe is forced to scrape a living in the woods killing game when and where he can to feed his men and the hapless poor that are being exploited by the British aristocracy. Angelica Fanshawe's daughter Beth (Freya Mavor) witnesses Abe and his cohorts poach a deer. This is her first encounter with desperate men doing whatever they can to feed themselves and others. After her mother cast the men away without their kill, Beth becomes obsessed with finding these men and learning more about their situation - in particular Abe. Abe not only excites her romantically, but inspires within her the need to help others, so she sneaks passage to the new world where she encounters the very real face of a people hacking a life for themselves out of a rough and dangerous wilderness - even becoming involved and simpathetic to the plight of the native peoples.
Meanwhile on the other side of the known world, things in the Massachusetts colonies could be going a bit better. Ned Hawkins (Joe Dempsie) is having a hard time convincing the local townsfolk that his father who owns the land they farm that they need to pay their back rents in full. This is in spite of the fact that the town has been besieged by attacks from the natives tribes who refuse to move off the land they were "paid" for. Ned is sympathetic to their plight, but can't show it. He is particularly taken with the outspoken upstart Hope (Alice Englert). Even when the natives attack the town meeting and folks have to fight for their lives, Ned takes a few moments here and there to appreciate the young woman's spark and incredible accuracy with a firearm. Just when all hope for saving the town was lost, William Goffe shows up in the nick of time. The aged soldier rallies the remaining militiamen and together they route the native attack. But these heroic actions have a price as they draw the attentions of Judge Jeffreys' colonial representative. Subterfuge, intrigue, sabotage, and assassination are the measures people are willing to go on either side of the ocean to ensure the longevity of their respective causes, whether their fighting to preserve the crown or raise up a republic that is truly representative of the people.
'New Worlds' is a difficult miniseries to talk about for several reasons. One reason is there are a lot of characters and a lot of historical events at play and juggling what happens where and when can be very confusing. It doesn't help that everyone looks and sounds alike and we're not given the benefit of a title card letting us know where the heck things are happening. Another reason that makes this show hard to detail in earnest is the fact that there are any number of plot twists and turns that talking about would honestly kill off any suspense or surprise for anyone who hasn't seen the thing yet. Not helping this show is the next reason - just too many characters to follow. I get why they're there, they're an embodiment of a change in political tides - but they're also so thin and uninteresting that it becomes hard to care about their cause or their plight. For instance, Beth spends entirely too much time with Abe and his woodland buddies to learn about their issues. The conversations that ensue become repetitive and contrived. By the series' third episode I think I said "okay we get the point!" at least three or four times.
That isn't to say that 'New Worlds' is a bad show or even boring. Quite the opposite in fact. Often the show is the source for thrilling action and some suspenseful intrigue as characters are played like pawns on a historical chessboard. The main problem is that there is just too much plot spread out across too large of a canvas for the series to be truly effective. The performers are fully committed to their roles so that helps. Particularly impressive is Jamie Dornan as Abe. When I read that he was in this, I didn't know what to expect after 'Fifty Shades Of Grey,' but thankfully he proves to be a decent enough presence and helps ground a lot of the material. Also fun in an all too brief role is James Cosmo as William Goffe - whenever I see this guy in a movie or show, my interest goes up several notches. After turns in movies like 'Braveheart' and shows like 'Game of Thrones' and 'Sons of Anarchy' one can't help but get a little excited when the guy pops up. Freya Mavor does a decent enough job as Beth, but her character is a bit to one note for her performance to truly shine. A nice standout is Jeremy Northam who can always be relied upon to deliver a satisfying villain.
In the end, 'New Worlds' is one of those shows that's difficult to recommend to casual TV viewers while at the same time being impossible to condemn. There's a lot going for this show to keep things entertaining and enough to see and appreciate with the show's production design, but some convoluted story telling may keep it inaccessible for some. It's worth a watch, but don't feel bad if you're at all confused by what's going on, I had to frequently restart episodes because I kept getting lost.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
'New Worlds' arrives on Blu-ray thanks to Acorn and RLJ Entertainment and pressed on a BD25 disc and a BD50 disc. The disc opens to a preview of other Acorn titles that are available to own or watch through their streaming service. Housed in a standard Blu-ray case with slip cover, the extra features are available on the second disc.
'New Worlds' certainly makes the most of the Blu-ray format with a practically flawless 2.35:1 1080p presentation. From the outset viewers should appreciate the incredible level of detail the image has to offer. Being a period piece, there is a lot of fine detail allowing for skin tones, costume details, set pieces, and makeup to shine. For the most part black levels are pretty solid - not perfect. Some of the darker scenes have a some slight crush issues and some characters become floating heads, but otherwise there is plenty of shadow work to appreciate and help the image have a three dimensional feel. Colors are equally impressive as some very distinct motifs are captured, the rustic American frontier and the upscale English countryside. That said, primaries look and feel natural without any bleed and reds feel warm and accurate leading to some solid and consistent flesh tones. Without any noticeable compression artifacts the likes of banding or haloing, 'New Worlds' offers a near reference quality HD transfer for fans of the series to enjoy.
As fine as the video quality may be for 'New Worlds' the audio quality can be a bit problematic. AS a largely dialogue fronted show, the English DTS-HD MA 5.1 track does manage to keep things feeling lively and atmospheric. Dialogue for the most part is strong and crystal clear, although during some scenes it can become difficult to hear when characters are whispering. Action sequences make the most of the surround channels offering plenty of imaging and effect separation so dialogue, sound effects, and the music score don't impact each other negatively. Now the main problem I have for 'New Worlds' is the audio for Episode 2. I have a hunch that there was a bad encode for this particular track as any number of sound anomalies fire up within seconds of the episode starting. For starters the mix is overly hot and far too loud compared to the first episode - this creates a great deal of distortion and rattling through the episode. I had to turn my volume almost completely off and the subtitles on just so I could finish watching the episode. Since the other three episodes weren't affected by this, these distortions are apparently endemic of Episode 2 alone. I tried this episode on two different setups and had the same result leading me to believe it's a problem with the disc itself.
Deleted Scene: (HD 2:04) This is a throwaway bit of exposition that would have taken too much time to setup - especially a lot of the character moments are already established making it a bit repetitive.
Building The New Worlds: (HD 4:06) The production design team briefly talk about recreating historical costuming and scenery.
History Of The New Worlds: (HD 4:31) The series' creators talk about what got them interested in this era of English and American history and what inspired them to create the show.
The World Of VFX: (HD 4:22) This brief and fascinating feature discusses the effectiveness of CGI to enhance practical sets in order to accurately recreate the time period.
The People Of The New Worlds: (HD 4:41) The cast and creators talk about what it was like to play either fictitious or historically real characters.
All in all I found 'New Worlds' to be a relatively entertaining if slightly confusing retelling of historical events making it a decent source for some solid and lively action-filled dramatics. It's far from perfect and can be a tad repetitive, but it's still a decent way to spend four hours of your time. The video is spectacular and fans should love the Blu-ray on that front, but look out for the problematic audio mix for Episode 2. I hope it was an isolated incident. With a smattering of extras, I'm calling this set as being worth a look. There's a lot going for it, but I can see some people having trouble maintaining their interest levels.