A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this TV show.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that the TV adaptation of Barkskins, a historical drama about early colonial life in the French territories, features lots of mature content. Characters do whatever it takes to survive, including cheating, spying, torturing, and murder. Violent scenes are frequent, and people are shown being hit, shot, and stabbed with knives, axes, pistols, and rifles. Bloody wounds and decomposing corpses are visible. There are lots of conversations about marriage, virginity, and having children, and a self-induced abortion is shown. People are shown in various stages of undress, but no private areas are visible. Drinking and drunken behavior are frequent. As reflective of the time, discrimination against Native Americans is featured and sometimes challenged.
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What's the story?
Based on the 2016 book by Annie Proulx, BARKSKINS is a drama about a group of colonists living in the wild frontier of the New World. It's 1693, and three weeks after a settlement in the French territories is massacred by Iroquois for mysterious reasons, René Sel (Christian Cooke) and Charles Duquet (James Bloor) arrive at nearby Wobik to indenture themselves as tree cutters, or barkskins. Contracted by the wealthy farmer Monsieur Claude Trepagny (David Thewlis), they live on his land along with Mari (Kaniehtiio Horn), a Mi'kmaq woman who has borne him a child. Meanwhile, newly arrived "Filles Du Roi" (Daughters of the King) Melissande (Tallulah Haddon) and Delphine (Lily Sullivan) are preparing to choose the men they will marry to help populate the colonies.
As they start their new lives, Hamish Goames (Aneurin Barnard) of the Hudson Bay Company, along with his indigenous friend Yvon (Zahn McClarnon), settle in at the local inn -- run by the cunning Mathilde Geffard (Marcia Gay Harden) -- to begin their search for a missing comrade. As Goames attempts to connect the massacre with the disappearance, he wonders if wealthy British barrel minder Elisha Cooke (Thomas M. Wright) may know more about the situation than he lets on. As tensions between the French and the English grow, and fears of more Iroquois attacks loom large, they continue to work hard in hopes of capitalizing on the natural riches the new land has to offer.
Is it any good?
This absorbing TV adaptation offers a well-produced historical fiction about colonists seeking freedom and opportunity in the wild frontier of what is now the province of Quebec, Canada. Individual narratives highlight some of the programs created by the French crown to populate its vast territories, many of which preyed on the poor and vulnerable by promising land and economic prosperity. But a large part of the drama is inspired by the competing economic interests of the British and the French, which led to the recruitment of indigenous tribes to help them fight their battles, and became a precursor to the French and Indian War nearly a century later.
Barkskins focuses only on the first 100 pages of Annie Proulx's popular 736-page novel. As a result, it only hints at the overall story's strong environmental messages about deforestation and climate change, and does so with such subtly that it's easy to miss. Many viewers will also be left wanting to see where the characters are headed after the series wraps up. But it's still an entertaining story worth investing your time in, especially if you like historical fiction.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about the colonial history that inspires the different narratives featured in Barkskins. Were any of the historical details and events surprising? Do you think life at those times was as violent as it's presented here?
What other stories of colonization are you familiar with? How do any of these differ with what you learned in school, and from each other? What other parts of the world have been subjected to colonization over the centuries? What about currently?
What are some of the challenges of adapting a book for television? Why do you think the showrunners decided to adapt only the first 100 pages of Annie Proulx's novel for this series?
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