The second installment of the new PBS drama, “Mercy Street” could be described as more of the same. It was nonetheless worthy of comment.
In my review of the show’s premier episode I wrote: “The program appears to have reached a level of historical accuracy for television Civil War-era dramas never before achieved.” (See: http://tinyurl.com/zqhdtht for my review.) Episode two held true to this same high standard. A number of the series’ characters who had a significant role in this installment look more like those seen in Civil War era photographs than Hollywood movie stars. I was particularly struck by the authenticity of the accents, women’s hairstyles and women’s dresses.
Women’s Fashion of the Period
When viewing members of the cast acting in reproductions of middle and upper-class dresses it was obvious how drastically these clothes restricted movement. One has to assume that changing in and out of them, as well as the many layers of that which was worn underneath, took a considerable amount of time and effort and was very hard to do without a good deal of assistance.
Woman’s fashion in the U.S. Colonial Period was much more practical and less restrictive. It may not be a coincidence, then, that our Colonial ancestors were less prudish than our Victorian predecessors. I have always wondered if women’s fashion of the Victorian era, which was presumably designed, manufactured and sold by men represented an effort to control women. Middle and upper-class men who were terrible husbands probably slept better knowing that the clothes their wives wore made it difficult for a woman to have an extra-marital affair without getting caught.
Mary Elizabeth Winstead, who portrays nurse Mary Phinney, wears such dresses well. I am now convinced that “Mercy Street” will make her a star.
At times, however she can barely be seen. When writing on episode one I noted that the period lighting level used was at times so dark that one could not see what was transpiring on screen. Lighting was even more of a problem in episode two.
My biggest criticism of the show’s premier was that the plot did not have a great deal going on and seemed to appeal mainly to women . Plot development in episode two was not much better. A critic who compared “Mercy Street” to a soap opera was being unfair. A better comparison was made by the critic who noted a similarity to the program “ER.” This is fitting since David Zabel, the co-creator “Mercy Street,” was also a writer on “ER.”
I still believe that “Mercy Street” has the potential to become a production that can be a hit with both genders. The fascinating Confederate scout and spy Frank Stringfellow has not yet made his appearance. I am hoping he can save the show for me and the rest of its male viewership.
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