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Barkskins Review 2020 Tv Show Series Season Cast Crew Online
Creator: Elwood Reid
Stars: David Thewlis, Marcia Gay Harden, Aneurin Barnard
Opening Shot: After a graphic explains that, in the late 1600s, France’s Louis XIV, The English-run Hudson’s Bay Fur Trading Company and the native Iroquois tribe all were fighting over control of the territories in the northeast of North America, known as “New France.” Then we see a village on fire.
The Gist: As the village burns and we see people dying, a girl runs out of the village and into the forest; she climbs a tree to avoid being detected. Back in town, a mercenary named Gus Lafarge (Matthew Lillard) talks with English barrel maker Elisha Cooke (Thomas M. Wright) about how he executed the plan to kill the French settlers and pin it on the Iroquois. He thinks the time is right to claim the land for themselves, but Cooke wants them to wait, because he can see things that Lafarge can’t.
In the meantime, a rowboat full of French refugees is going up the St. Lawrence River, to deliver the refugees to an open market. There, rich landowners will take the refugees into indentured servitude, with the promise that after 3 years, the refugees will be free and own a parcel of their benefactor’s land. Two of the refugees couldn’t be more opposite each other: Rene Sel (Christian Cooke) is looking forward to escaping the poverty he experienced in France, while the recalcitrant Charles Duquet (James Bloor) feels he’s been sent to the New World as a punishment.
Rene is highly skilled as a barkskin, i.e. a lumberjack, and is highly sought after. Cook puts in his dibs, but as a Brit he doesn’t get first choice. In limps Claude Trepagny (David Thewlis), a quirky landowner who buys Rene on the spot; Rene tells Trepagny that he can also get Charles on the cheap, and Trepagny agrees, all the while berating Charles for his seeming weaknesses. They traverse the forest back to Trapagny’s cabin.
Also arriving in town are two reps of the Hudson’s Bay Company, Hamish Goames (Aneurin Barnard) and Yvon (Zahn McClarnon), whom Goames insist gets treated like an equal, even though he is Native American. They arrive at an inn owned by Francis Geffard (Adrian Hough) and his wife Mathilde (Marcia Gay Harden). They’re looking for the agent who pass through there some months before but disappeared. They’ve already seen the 10 supposed Iroquois that are hanging from a mast in the river, and wonder if the agent was a part of that. Francis tries to play games with them, but Mathilde tells them that the agent had stayed there. As Goames and Yvon try to suss out the agent’s whereabouts with Constable Bouchard (David Wilmot), Cooke happens on the agents and tries to bond with them over their shared British heritage.
When Rene and Charles arrive at Trepagny’s cabin, they meet his young charge, a half-French, half-Wendat Nation woman named Mari (Kaniehtiio Horn), who has a young son and is very possessive of Trepagny. She tries to teach Charles how to gut the ram that he had dragged there, but the ram ended up being not just spoiled but cursed. Both Frenchman find out that Trepagny wants to clear the forest ans build a city that’s more or less a tribute to his great vision.
Mathilde confronts Lafarge about the rent he owes her, and for his business dealings with Cooke; two young women who are set to become Fillies du Roi (virgin wives for wealthy landowners), Delphine (Lily Sullivan) and Melissande (Tallulah Haddon), both have secrets; Goames and Yvon find the burned village, and are shocked that people are still alive.
Our Take: Despite Reid’s pedigree, it feels like he is trying too hard to service everyone who populates the early part of Proulx’s story, leaving a pile of thinly-sketched characters that all have some ulterior motives roiling beneath their outward behavior, but we’re just not sure what they are.
Cooke is a perfect example of this. We know that he’s conniving and power-hungry. But we also know that he’s more or less an outcast where he lives because he’s English. He married a French woman and inherited her barrel business after she died. He’s definitely looking for a way to put his own stamp on the St. Lawrence River valley region, but we’re just not sure yet about how devious he’s going to get. Same with Mathilde Gaffard; she’s definitely more than just an innkeeper’s wife, and can parry with rogues like Lafarge. But just how involved is she in the business of region’s players?
Barkskins is one of those series that you’re going to find interesting right off the bat or boring and confusing. We leaned somewhat towards the former, if only because of the impressive performances from people we’ve enjoyed over the years, like Harden, Thewlis and Cooke. The scenery of the film’s Quebec location shots were gorgeous. But at the end of the first episode, we were no farther along in figuring out just what Barkskins was about than we were at the beginning. That’s usually a bad sign.
Parting Shot: Goames and Yvon happen upon the girl who escaped the burning settlement, cowering behind a tree.
Sleeper Star: Kaniehtiio Horn already has a strong presence as the mixed-heritage Mari; she seems to want the older Trepagny for herself and will stop at nothing to keep it that way.
Most Pilot-y Line: Trepagny is tired of Charles complaining about his abscessed tooth, so he has Rene hold his friend down and he yanks the tooth out himself. For some reason, teeth extraction scenes give us the willies, and while we get the idea behind it, it still did seem a bit gratuitous. We also cringed when Trepagny assured Mari that he didn’t “spill my seed” with the Fillies du Roi in training.
Our Call: STREAM IT, but it’s a marginal recommendation. Barkskins is well-acted and looks fantastic, but it’s too confusing at the start, preventing the viewer from really settling in and getting involved in the story and with the characters.