Wednesday, April 9, 2014

New TV Series

Since my last post about the Culper Spy Ring and agent 355, I discovered the new AMC series Turn based on—guess what!—the Culper Spy Ring. Talk about a coincidence! Just when I was studying that particular subject, a TV series about it shows up. Needless to say, I was very anxious to watch the first episode.

As I’m sure everyone is aware, I thoroughly enjoy action-adventure stories, particularly those with a historical setting—which is why I write them. And I wasn’t disappointed by Turn’s storyline, acting, and general look and feel. The filmmakers did a surprisingly creditable job of creating a historically accurate script, settings, and costuming. The acting was solid and the plot engrossing and suspenseful. I’m looking forward to the rest of the series and hope it’ll stay on track.

As in every story, written or filmed, the focus of this first installment was to introduce the characters, portray their individual situations and the factors that send them on their journey, and set up future episodes. If we’re going to care about the men and women who inhabit the story, we have to understand and sympathize with their motivations and goals. In accomplishing that, the writers and actors did their jobs very well.

Of course, considering the fact that the Americans were at war with Britain at the time, Turn did depict realistic violence and bloodshed. I would have preferred to have less of an up-close view of it, although compared to the majority of TV dramas and movies we see nowadays, it wasn’t as bad as many. But the truth is that war is not romantic. Far from it. I’ve heard it said that the purpose of war is to tear up things and kill people, and indeed it is. War is gritty and dirty and violent and ugly. If everyone truly understood that, perhaps we wouldn’t have so many of them.

In Turn, the producers could have pulled shots back and avoided focusing so closely on the gore without sacrificing realism. I’m hoping that now that the motivations of the characters have been established future episodes will focus more on intrigue and less on violence. I personally don’t enjoy seeing the evil humans perpetrate against each other portrayed graphically any more than anyone else, and I’d caution anyone who might be disturbed to take that into account before watching Turn. I wouldn’t recommend it for younger children. But as a historian I have to be a realist. I study the ugly things that happen in life as well as the glorious things so I can write accurate historical fiction that convicts readers about the fallen state of humankind and illuminates God’s redemptive purposes for our lives.

What’s needed is balance in how graphically we as writers portray real life. When we sanitize history, we don’t present an honest picture of our need and God’s grace. When we overdo depictions of violence, we run the risk of turning readers off to our message, desensitizing them to sinful actions, or glorifying sin and raising passions that may lead them to engage in it. I don’t want to do that in my work. I want to honor the sacrifices of those who endured the fiery trial to ensure our freedom by portraying history honestly and in a way that fully glorifies God. And I depend on the Lord to guide me in that calling.


  1. And this review of "Turn" as well as your description of your goals in your writing are exactly why you are one of my favorite historical authors, Joan. Thank you for voicing my own heart about historical accuracy as well as our responsibilities in what we write. You have, unknowingly perhaps, been a mentor to me. Thank you.

  2. Elaine, I appreciate your comments so much! You've been such a blessing to me, and I'm honored that you consider me a mentor--it's a privilege to serve in that capacity to dear friends who take their work seriously. God surely called us into this mission field, and I'm delighted that we're traveling this road together, along with the other wonderful authors at CQ/CACW!

  3. I appreciated your review, Joan. I wish the producers of TURN would not be so graphic in the violence, but sadly that is what war is all about, killing people and breaking things.

  4. It is, Janet, and I think it's important to portray war honestly to honor the sacrifice of those who serve in order to preserve our freedoms--but also discourage any delusion that it's a glorious thing. Ask any soldier. On a battlefield isn't where anyone wants to be. That said, there's no need to wallow in the gore either. You can depict such scenes without going for shock value as far too many movies do. I thought Turn bordered on it in a few scenes, but thankfully they didn't dwell on it too long. You could easily gather the impression, and then turn your eyes away until the scene passed. I did that in a couple of instances. lol!

  5. Thank you for introducing this. Thank goodness for On Demand, however. Seems like the only good shows are on Sunday night.

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