Lauded Hollywood screenwriter Scott Frank (“Out Of Sight”, “Minority Report”, “Logan”) brings a refreshing tale of a plucky band of women’s struggle with life in the Wild West to the small screen in his first foray into the medium as a Director. What’s he’s ended up with is not only one of the best Western TV series ever made, but quite possibly one of the best TV shows of 2017.
When a mining accident in a small Mid-Western town in the 1880s wipes out most of the male inhabitants it is up to the women to breathe life back into the area and attempt to get the mine running again.
Boosted by the assured presence of Executive Producer Steven Soderbergh, Godless is a masterpiece; homaging previous classics whilst injecting a fresh spin by focusing on the hardships being endured by the women of La Belle, New Mexico and their constant struggles deep-rooted misogyny, outlaws, vagabonds and corrupt mining companies desperate to exploit their precious resources in an era when your fists and trigger finger counted more than your brains.
The central narrative focusses on the vicious and notorious criminal/ pastor Frank Griffin (Jeff Daniels), along with his gang of equally notorious outlaws, looking for revenge against his former partner/ protégé Roy Goode (Jack O’Connell) who had betrayed them. Roy seeks refuge with local widower Alice Fletcher (Michelle Dockery) who has been outcast by the town and her past.
The casting, although probably eyebrow-raising when the list was submitted, is perfect for the trio of leads for this epic tale. Jeff Daniels is at a career-best playing the one-armed and hatefully scorned Frank Griffin. He would give Fonda a good run for his money as the archetypal good-guy-gone-bad. Michelle Dockery breaks free of her “Downton Abbey” character and excels as the distant, lonely and isolated mother who takes pity on Roy and forms the central relationship of the show. There’s also solid support in the form of Scoot McNairy as the disrespected and cowardly sheriff of La Belle and Thomas Brodie-Sangster as his faithful and fearless deputy. Finally Jack O’Connell, whilst no Eastwood, is perfect as the softly spoken vigilante with a conscience, keeping it just ambiguous enough so you never quite know where he stands until the finale.
And what a finale it is! Although it may be up to the women of the town to defend themselves against Frank’s bloodthirsty crew, they have grit and guts to stand their ground and protect what’s rightfully theirs as well as their lives.
You may have noticed from my previous reviews that Netflix is notorious for outstaying its welcome regarding the number of episodes per show. But whether it’s the experience of the show’s creators or the dawning of common sense, there are only seven episodes on offer here and the series is stronger and better for the embracing of brevity. Sure the episodes tend to be around an hour long, excluding the one-and-a-half hour long finale, but at no point does it seem that they’re padded out or overstuffed. My only complaint would be it would have been nice to get a little more screen time shared between Daniels and O’Connell over the course of the series, but not so much as to require an eighth episode.
If you like Westerns, “Godless” is essential viewing. If you like quality shows with strong female characters (let’s be honest, there haven’t been many outside of “The Handmaid’s Tale” and “Big Little Lies” recently) this is essential viewing. Actually, this is just essential viewing.
Watch this if you like: “Once Upon A Time In The West”, “Unforgiven”, “Deadwood”