'Barkskins' Episode 1 Review: Nat Geo's gritty adaptation of Annie Proulx's novel is a thrilling GoT-esque ride
Based on the 2016 best-selling novel of the same name by Annie Proulx, 'Barkskins' is an exploration into the deforestation of the new world
Spoilers for 'Barkskins' Season 1 Episode 1
Our story begins during the 1690s in New France in a small settlement in Wobik. Among the many things that have recently occurred in this dirty small town is a massacre and the influx of indentured servants, who are meant to populate the territory, and also do manual labour for the French landowners. Rene Sel (Christian Cooke) and Charles Duquet (James Bloor) are two such servants who are now in the employment of Claude Trepagny (David Thewlis). They are supposed to work three years with him following which they will be granted freedom. Trepagny is a landowner with grand plans for New France — he wishes to be a builder one day. Every day he employs Rene and Charles to clear forest land in order to make way for houses.
Elsewhere, two young women arrive on the same boat as Rene and Duquet. The 'Filles Du Roi' (or 'Daughters of the King') are sent from France to be matched with husbands, start families and help the colony prosper in this land. Melissande (Tallulah Haddon) and Delphine (Lily Sullivan) are to choose their husbands but their criteria for a man is different yet similar. On the other side of this town, Hamish Goames (Aneurin Barnard) arrives with Yvon (Zahn McClarnon) to investigate the disappearance of a fellow agent from the Hudson's Bay Company. It is evident early on that Hamish has more to conceal than he has to show for himself, which puts him in a suspicious situation.
Based on the 2016 best-selling novel of the same name by Annie Proulx, 'Barkskins' is an exploration into the deforestation of the new world from the arrival of Europeans in the contemporary era of global warming. The Pulitzer Prize-winning author's book spans over 300 years and being deemed a towering work of environmental fiction, it narrates the history of deforestation through the stories of immigrants Rene and Duquet and their descendants.
'Barkskins' is informative, intriguing, fact-based and an extremely thrilling watch. Directed by David Slade, who is known to direct episodes for 'Breaking Bad', 'American Gods' and 'Black Mirror', the series immediately packs a punch and delivers a very interesting tale. Attention to detail is also commendable. The ever-evolving world of New France is a civilization for the new world which is being created for new ventures. Slade's direction is exciting to follow. Even though we are actually following the lives of two immigrants, there are a host of other characters that make up the show — characters that form alliances, cheat and break promises. Each party has one or more vested interests and in this small settlement, govern the lives of the indentured servants.
Since we know nothing of the backstories of any of the characters — settlers and the immigrants — it is hard to relate to them emotionally (although it does create immense mystery about what their future holds in store). So we must take them at their face value. The hardworking Rene is here for a new life with new opportunities. So is his companion Duquet, who wants the same things as Rene, but on his own terms and not by slaving for a somebody for years.
Often, the French accents are hard to follow and even comical since they are acted out by English actors. Case in point is the very interesting Claude Trepagny, who is played by English actor Thewlis. But the gripping plot easily takes attention away from that. An exciting exploration into the ambition, power and vision documented with grit, violence and bare connivance, 'Barkskins' tells a story about survival against greed.
'Barkskins' airs on National Geographic on Mondays at 9/ 8c.