I am proud to be an American, but boy there are times when I wish I lived in England. Based on their television, I have this ridiculous image of a well-educated populace who know the kings of England and can quote the fights historical. I’ve watched all manner of documentaries, with presenters like Simon Shama, David Starkey, Lucy Worsley and Dan Snow. Realistically I know the Brits gave us reality television, but I still think the ledger is in their favor.
Even their drama is historical, from Ripper Street to Copper (granted American history). Recently I discovered City of Vice that’s available to watch on Hulu. It’s about the efforts of Henry Fielding, who with his brother, created the Bow Street Runners, the forerunners of modern-day police.
Crime buffs are familiar with the Bow Street Runners, established in 1749, but most people are probably surprised how a city like London could have existed for so long without some form of policing. Before this time, policing was a “catch as catch can” sort of proposition, as shown in this 2008 Channel 4 series of just five episodes.
It’s interesting to see the reality of sponging houses and the use of bailiffs and the casual acknowledgement of prostitution and the horrifying “belief” that sex with a virgin could cure venereal disease. Unfortunately the productions values of the series make it a little difficult to watch: background sound overwhelms dialog and the vignette effect makes everything look dark and gloomy, reinforcing that image of the past being dirty and dingy.
Ian McDiarmid brings a lot to the role of Henry Fielding, but it takes a little effort to get past remembering his most famous as Emperor Palpatine. Iain Glen, who plays John Fielding, has a similar problem for me: he played Sir Richard Carlisle so well in Downton Abbey.
Aside from being set in the Georgian era (specifically George II), City of Vice has another Austen connection: Henry Fielding wrote Tom Jones, which was a favorite of Jane and Tom Lefroy (as seen in Becoming Jane).