If you rely on TV and film for your 17th-century history lessons, you may be under the impression that when Charles II took to the throne in 1660, the people of England all got together to agree that the Civil War had been a ghastly mistake and that no one should ever speak of it again.
It’s an attitude that fascinates writers Peter Flannery and Martine Brant, and has inspired their new four-part drama New Worlds, which acts as a sequel to their civil war series The Devil’s Whore.
Brant says: “Why do we not celebrate The English Revolution when the Americans and the French, who followed the English example, celebrate theirs? Few now care to remember that, for a short period in mid-17th century, England was a Republic.”
Actor Jamie Dornan, who made a splash in BBC2’s The Fall, has a pretty good excuse for not knowing much about the interregnum and the restoration before signing on for this drama. He says: “Because I went to school in Belfast the English Civil War wasn’t high on the curriculum so to some extent I had to learn from scratch. I had no idea that it was such a barbaric time.”
To set the scene, the first episode opens in 1680, and after 20 years on the throne, Charles II seems to have forgotten about his initial promises of tolerance, and is instead stamping out some of the hard-won rights of the Civil War.
But not everyone is happy to go back to the way things were before the conflict – especially not Dornan’s character, Abe Goffe.
The actor says: “Abe is a young, idealistic renegade who is very determined in his fight to make England a true republic and end the tyrannical rule of the Stuart throne.
“It is a similar fight to that taken up by his father William Goffe who was a real historical figure and one whom Abe idolises. He is trying to uphold the mantel of his father’s campaign and muster up support among others.”
And one of the ways he fights for his beliefs is by kidnapping 21-year-old Beth (Freya Manor), daughter of Angelica (Eve Best), Countess of Seacourt. She finds herself falling for her captor and his ideals – something Dornan may have to get used to now he’s won the lead role in the highly anticipated Fifty Shades of Grey movie.
Meanwhile, over in America, two young colonists, Hope (Alice Englert) and Ned (Joe Dempsie) also become caught up in the fight against the English throne. And while this may all be taking place in the 17th century, Dornan thinks viewers won’t have to look too hard to see modern parallels.
“I think the themes of New Worlds are all ones that young people watching the drama can relate to. Young people still feel enraged about the same injustices, although I like to think in England people now are treated with greater decency and things aren’t as brutal and bloody as they were at that time.”
He adds: “We don’t want it to be a four-part history lesson but I think audiences will certainly learn something from watching New Worlds.”
NEW WORLDS, CHANNEL 4, TUESDAY 9pm