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The production company behind hit shows like Downton Abbey and The Hollow Crown recently announced it is undertaking a new eight-part series on Jamestown, with Jamestown Rediscovery Foundation President James Horn acting as one of the show’s primary historical consultants.
United Kingdom-based Carnival Films announced filming for the show, most of which is taking place in Hungary on a large-scale set re-creating the James Fort, began earlier this month.
The show’s airdate has not yet been announced, but the production has been a longtime in the making.
Horn, who joined the team at Historic Jamestowne and Preservation Virginia in 2014, was first approached about the show two years ago after Sue de Beauvoir, the show’s producer, read his book A Land As God Made It: Jamestown and the Birth of America.
De Beauvoir and Horn met up to discuss her vision for a show that focuses on life in the settlement following the arrival of a large group of women in the year 1619.
Horn was intrigued by the idea and agreed to be the production’s go-to consultant for matters concerning the historically accurate portrayal of the early days of Jamestown.
For more than a year, Horn has been receiving scripts for the show from writer and creator Bill Gallagher and sending back his comments, questions and critiques.
“It’s been a very interesting process,” Horn said. “They really want to make it historically accurate, but of course it’s not a documentary, it’s a drama.”
At the heart of the drama are the three female leads, portrayed by actresses Naomi Battrick, Sophie Rundle and Niamh Walsh. This trio of fictional heroines is among the group of about 150 young women sent to Jamestown to become wives for the planters in 1619, Horn said.
Battrick, Rundle and Walsh are joined by a robust cast of male settlers, portrayed by actors Max Beesley, Jason Flemyng, Dean Lennox-Kelly, Shaun Dooley, Stuart Martin, Steven Waddington, Matt Stokoe and Burn Gorman.
In addition to the focus on the arrival of a large number of women in the colony, another key storyline for the show will be relations between the settlers and American Indians. Buck Woodard, manager of Colonial Williamsburg’s American Indian Initiative, has advised the script writers on numerous issues relating to the diverse groups of American Indians with whom the colonists came into contact.
As for the kinds of questions Horn is asked to weigh in on, he said they range from big-picture issues like giving an accurate description of what Jamestown would have looked like to much more specific details like what kinds of medicines, furniture and clothes would have been accessible to the settlers.
One of Horn’s favorite examples of an issue of historical accuracy that would not normally occur to casual viewers is a discussion he recently had about livestock in the early colony.
Though the show writers were aware that hogs roamed freely throughout much of the settlement, Horn thought it was important to note they would have looked different from the pigs we have today.
“Their pigs did not look like the kind of pigs we have in mind today – big, fat and pink,” Horn said. “They were smaller, hairier and more like boars. That sort of thing is important to be aware of.”
In addition to Horn’s input, the whole team at Jamestown Rediscovery has been a part of weighing in on details like furnishings and the material culture of the time period.
“We have to be certain that everything you see in the program is of the right period. You can’t have a late 17th century bottle [in the shot],” Horn said.
Horn is hopeful the end result of his historical consulting and the creative endeavors of the writers and actors will be a show that offers a compelling window into the reality of daily life for Jamestown settlers.
“I hope the show will remind people that Jamestown was the first English colony and many of the hard lessons took place here,” Horn said. “Development of rule of law and a stable, orderly society – Jamestown was very important.”
While Horn thinks the show will do a good job of staying true to the history and reminding people of its significance, he is also looking forward to the emotional impact a series like this can have.
“A drama gives you the opportunity to do things you can’t do with non-fiction,” Horn said. “It humanizes the experience and lets you explore people’s feelings and emotions. I think that’s one of the key advantages.”