When told there’s a new series about an abolitionist on the box, you’d probably imagine some sombre, slow show full of melancholic musings and profound statements. But not with this one.
Sky Atlantic have churned out a boisterous banger in The Good Lord Bird, which is based on the 2013 James McBride novel of the same name. The story follows the final years of the abolitionist John Brown. Brown wanted slavery abolished by any means, but preferably, by violent ones. Known for being a bit of a nutter and having a blood thirst on the level of Javier Bardem in No Country For Old Men, Brown travels round America, lobbing heads off and popping bullets in ribs, in a bid to end slavery. This all might sound a bit wild west, but believe it or not, John Brown is a real bloke, and the story told in this seven-part series is true…at least for the most part.
There’s a disclaimer at the beginning to let us know that some of it has been cooked up by a writer (take notes, The Crown). But, you can probably still tell yourself you’re having a history lesson whilst watching, and that your teacher is just a lairy, potty-mouthed cowboy. Obviously, all this blood and guts could get a bit much after a while, so to dilute Brown down there’s a fellow lead added in the form of 14-year-old Henry, a young black boy who he rescues from a slaver, and who gets up to various misadventures and drops the odd perfectly written quip along the way. The result is this potentially grim watch has been turned into a darkly comic, entertaining show, full of gusto.
The Guardian’s Rebecca Nicholson says The Good Lord Bird “asks questions that it doesn’t always wish to answer, and it has a surprising amount of fun doing so,” and comments “this irreverent take on history is eager to jolt viewers out of whatever comfort zone they might be in.” Anita Singh in The Telegraph agrees that it’s great fun, saying “What could have been a dour series is full of life.” In The Times, James Jackson praises the series, because it “boldly embraces a streak of irreverence in the way you would more expect of Django Unchained.”
First shown November 2016. You can watch the trailer by pressing play on the show image, or by clicking here: