Normally when we see pioneers dramas they tend to be American, or occasionally from closer to home.
But Jericho is about the closest Britain will come to making a western.
Set in Yorkshire in 1874, there’s a shanty town, builders, prostitutes and vagabonds and gunpowder. There’s even a railway bridge being built, in this case across the moors of a viaduct.
The star of the saga is Annie Quaintain (Jessica Raine) a young mum and widow who is forced to fend for herself after the death of her husband.
“We’re going to walk out of here with our heads held high,” she tells her children as they leave the family home to find work on the railroad.
In this tent-town of Jericho, she find a room to take in lodgers, one of whom is local worker Johnny Jackson (Hans Matheson). With his dashing looks, he is nicknamed “The Prince” by his weary-faced co-workers.
Looking to manage the connection of the London and Midland gauges is US agent Ralph Coates (Clarke Peters) -while he may be black, he has plenty of expertise building US railways.
But this tearaway community is thrown into chaos when an explosion injures some of the locals. Meanwhile Charles Blackwood (Daniel Rigby) has a vision for the viaduct but is running out of money, whilst a local detective Earl Bamford (Mark Addy) will also enter the scene.
In the midst of it all, Annie is trying to forge a new beginning for her family, but is tested by her newly uncivilised existence.
Visually, Jericho looks rather good. The green Yorkshire vistas serve the pioneering story quite well, complemented by a folk soundtrack that would be right at home in the American mid-west.
The story sticks closely to genre traditions, which is something of a lost opportunity. There’s the charismatic hero, the strong-willed woman battling the odds, a town baddie and the ‘sinful’ woman with the heart of gold. Having an African-American oversee the Brits was the only real unexpected note for me.
Jessica Raine, who impressed so much in Call the Midwife, demonstrates inner strength, but it’s already quite obvious where some of her story arc is headed. The script by Steve Thompson signposts a number of its moves, in the rollocking way that Wild Boys did some years ago in Australia.
While British drama has a fine history of period tales, they rarely stray into the western genre. This is pleasant enough, and Raines makes all the difference, but I can’t see this denting the long history of American adventures.
Jericho premieres 8:30pm Tuesday on BBC First.