Outlander | An overwhelming romance through the ages of Scotland
Claire (Caitríona Balfe) and her husband Frank (Tobias Menzies) got married just before the Second World War. Shortly after, though, Frank left as a soldier and Claire as a field nurse. War changed both of them and they aren’t sure whether they know each other anymore. So, in 1945, when the war is over, they decide to have a second honeymoon and travel to Inverness. While they’re visiting a mythical stone circle, Claire accidentally finds herself transported back to the past. An Outlander in the XVIII century, she’s not ready for the many dangers of ancient Scotland, nor for an unexpected romance.
Based on Diana Gabaldon‘s historical fiction literary saga, Outlander premiered on Starz in 2014. The seventh season was announced for late 2023, and in 2022 the development began for a prequel series, Blood of My Blood. During the years, it received several nominations and accolades, among which many Critics’ Choice Awards, Saturn Awards, and a BAFTA Scotland Award.
“Sing me a song of a lass that is gone”
Still by the stones at Craigh-na-Dun, Claire meets some men from the Clan MacKenzie, led by Dougal MacKenzie (Graham McTavish). Since the government troops and their terrible captain Jonathan Randal (Tobias Menzies) are pursuing them, the Highlanders suspect Claire of being a spy, as she’s English. So, they decide to take her with them to interrogate her. Even though it seems absurd, Claire understands she slipped into 1743, right in the middle of the Jacobite Rebellion. Moreover, she discovers that Jonathan Randal, besides being sadistic and deeply evil, is also an ancestor of Frank. As the group arrives at the Jacobite refuge, Claire catches their attention thanks to her medical talents. So they decide to keep her as a healer.
Ancient Scotland isn’t a place for a lone woman, though. To stay safe, Claire has to marry Jamie Fraser (Sam Heughan), a young rebel wanted by the English army. She feels guilty about Frank but knows she has no choice. So she is aware of the defeat Highlanders will meet on Culloden battlefield in just a few years. What she can’t guess, however, is the deep feelings that will grow between her and Jamie, and how deeply it will affect what she has always believed in.
You can change your life, but you can’t change what has been
Claire can come back to her age, her epoch, to Frank, but she refuses. Despite the obliged marriage, her sense of guilt, and all the difficulties, she can’t imagine her life without Jamie. Her choice has an impact on the present time, though: Frank keeps looking for her and doesn’t surrender. In Outlander, years pass simultaneously in different ages: one year in the 1900s is the same as one year in the 1700s. As time goes by, Claire knows the most violent phase of the Jacobite rebellion is approaching. As she knows perfectly well, the Highlander’s culture won’t survive. So, as she changed her life, she starts thinking that maybe she can also change what has been.
Stories about time travel can be very different, but they share some rules. One of the most important is that changing the past involves high risks. Series like Dark made it clear: even a tiny different detail in the past can cause great swings in the future. And even Claire knows that: but although her future could not exist anymore, she doesn’t seem worried. Similarly to Your Name‘s protagonists, she has no fear of changing history radically, if that will allow her to stay with Jamie. Nevertheless, she’s aware of what the consequences will be and intentionally distinguishes what she wants to be different from what she doesn’t. She fights hard, but she has to surrender: human fate has a traced path. She could choose Jamie, but she can’t change what has been.
With six seasons (and two others to come), Outlander retraces many historical events, and not just in Scotland; but as fierce as they can be, they’re always enlightened by Claire and Jamie’s overwhelming romance. A love capable of connecting ages, and allowing one to rewrite one’s fate, if not history.
An ode to ancient Scotland
Fantastic and historical drama, one of the main key strengths of Outlander is a tender and powerful romance; but ancient Scotland is a protagonist of the story, too. As much as it is fictionalized, the place is depicted in a pretty realistic way. The extensive use of external locations and real castles conveys a wet, dark, and nostalgic Highlander atmosphere. Gabaldon did extensive research, and the screenwriters could rely on Dr. Tony Pollard as an advisor. As The History Press points out, there are some historical inaccuracies, though. The Fraser tartan, for example, was not faithful to the original bright red and green. The female dresses were very accurately reconstructed, instead, starting from the underclothes. Costume designers Terry Dresbach and Trisha Biggar shared on Instagram the models and fabrics they came up with.
History is in the language, too, as characters speak Gaelic or ancient English. Gillebrìde MacMillan, the language consultant, declared that Heughan in particular was “fantastic” at learning Gaelic. Renewing the allure of the ancient language, many of his sentences became the most famous of the show.
The theme song immediately recalls a legendary atmosphere and tale. Bear McCreary arranged the folk Scottish chant The Sky Boat Song and adapted the text to fit Claire’s story. The first verse reminds one of the Iliad‘s incipit, asking someone to tell a story. Similarly to Game of Thrones, the theme song slightly changes season after season, with new scenes and musical arrangements hinting at what will happen in the season. The score counts many themes, among which one of the most famous is Jamie and Claire’s. Among the instruments used the most, there are flutes, and those most Scottish of instruments: drums and pipes. There are also some rare intrusions of modern music, both for scenes in the past and in the present. But as they are perfectly melded with folk music, and they contribute to building the theme, working as a counter melody. And thus building an ode to a mythical land.