Once you get over its political correctness, Netflix’s Godless is a cracker

9 December 2017

9:00 AM

9 December 2017

9:00 AM

Boy came to me the other night in a state of dismay. ‘Dad, I just turned on Match of the Day to watch England vs Kazakhstan and guess what: they never mentioned this, but it’s the women’s game.’

What bothered him was not so much being forced to watch a slower, less athletic, duller version of real football — though obviously that too — as that the BBC was being so utterly disingenuous about it. This policy of pretending there’s absolutely no difference between men’s and women’s international sporting fixtures has, I know, been operational for some time. But for those of us living outside the PC metropolitan bubble — i.e. most of the BBC’s actual audience — it still feels insulting, hectoring and dishonest.

But you can’t escape it. Even really good drama series that you might actually want to watch have been infected. The new Netflix cowboy drama Godless, for example.

Or rather, I should perhaps say, cowgirl drama. Godless, you see, is set largely in La Belle, New Mexico — a mining town that is mysteriously inhabited almost entirely by women. This, we later learn, is because all the men were wiped out in a mine disaster. But astonishingly their wives and girlfriends — not to mention the pretty prostitute who has had to turn the customer-less Magdalena’s House of Rapture into a school — all doggedly stayed behind. Now the women manage the town and its various operations as well as, or possibly even better than, those useless dead men ever did.

Don’t worry. Once you get over this politically correct implausibility, the drama is a cracker, for reasons I shall shortly explain. But I don’t think we should let it off the hook just yet. For example, the mine disaster, we learn, happened some while ago: so how come, in the interim, those widows haven’t been snapped up by hordes of male suitors in a region and era when eligible women must have been in desperately short supply?

Also, did we really have to have a scene where the tough, possibly lesbian girl who decides she would much rather dress as a man than as a woman taunts one of the male characters for never having experimented with wearing a dress. This is the 1890s Wild West, for heaven’s sake, not a gender-neutral toilet facility on Yale campus last week.

I felt much the same way when I half read my way through that acclaimed Sebastian Barry novel Days Without End. All that fantastically compelling historical detail about fighting the injuns, all those Civil War battles, all those grisly disease outbreaks and biblical weather disasters — all of it quite ruined by the author’s insistence on making the narrator gay. And it’s not the gayness I mind so much as the baggage that goes with it: that feeling that a) both you and the incorrect past are being improved and updated with a more correct modern narrative, and b) that there are lots of hideous SJW types really applauding all this stuff and that you’re just a dinosaur who will never be allowed old-fashioned, politically unloaded entertainment ever again because those are the New Rules.

Mind you, I’ve a suspicion — or rather a fervent hope — that the series creator Scott Frank only included this trope so that he could sell it more easily as a ‘feminist Western’. And also in order to create a handy narrative device where there are lots more pretty girls than you’d get in a more plausible Wild West scenario; girls who, furthermore, are about to be in the direst of
dire peril.

That’s because, as we saw in a promisingly brutal establishing scene, there’s a gang of very bad men on the loose led by one Frank Griffin. Griffin has just wiped out an entire town, lynching or shooting every man, woman and child. So just imagine the havoc he might eventually wreak at La Belle…

Unless, of course, the outlaw Roy Goode — husky voice and gunfighting skills out of Clint Eastwood in High Plains Drifter; horse-whispering skills out of Robert Redford — can somehow train up the girls in time to mount a defence like the one they managed in The Magnificent Seven.

This is why Godless is really so good and watchable, of course. Not the PC nonsense, which no one ever wanted or asked for. But, rather, because it’s a well acted, gritty, dusty, uber-violent and actually clandestinely old-fashioned mash-up of all the great Westerns you ever knew and loved. Oh, and also — thank God — there’s the blessed relief that it’s not that interminable bloody Westworld remake.

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