Monday, August 11, 2014

OUTLANDER: When books come to life on screen

Patty here

Has anyone seen the first episode of Outlander on Starz? For now, you can get it for free by visiting I watched on my computer but it’s also available On Demand if you have Time Warner Cable or similar.

I always cringe when a movie or TV series is made from a favorite book. We’ve all seen unsuccessful attempts and worry: Will the action be true to the book? Will the actors resemble the people we’ve imagined?

The official poster

A friend recommended OUTLANDER shortly after it was published in 1991. Her description sounded genre bending and not at all appealing, but she insisted I read it. So I did. And I loved it. I have since read all of the books in Diana Gabaldon’s series, except for WRITTEN IN MY OWN HEART’S BLOOD, which was released in June. The author has an interesting history. She holds degrees in Zoology, Marine Biology, and a Ph.D. in Quantitative Behavioral Ecology. She wrote OUTLANDER in secret, just to see if she was capable of writing a novel.

The books are part time-travel, part historical novel, part steamy romance and totally engaging. The history fascinated me because I have Scottish kin on my father’s side and I loved reading about that period in history. I’ve also traveled in the highlands of Scotland and found it enchanting.

As for OUTLANDER, the casting is inspired. Claire and Jamie look mostly as I imagined them. As Claire, Caitriona (pronounced Katrina) Balfe’s acting chops seem up to the task. She reminds me a bit of Cate Blanchett.  

Caitriona Balfe as Claire

Sam Heughan is Jamie Fraser.

Sam Heughan as Jamie Fraser

Production-wise, I thought there was an over reliance on voice overs and the pace was—shall we say—leisurely, but seeing it made me want to reread the book.

Most authors wonder who would be cast to play the characters in their novels. Who would make a good Maisie Dobbs? Jake Lassiter? Tom Eriksen in BORDER WARS? A friend once told me she envisioned Hilary Swank as Tucker Sinclair. I was surprised but later thought her observation was spot on.

For the uninitiated, OUTLANDER begins at the end of WWII. Claire Randall has spent the war years working as a combat nurse where she has become accustomed to making life-and-death decisions. In other words: She's no wimp. Now that the war is over, she and her husband Frank travel to Scotland on a second honeymoon to get reacquainted after years spent apart. During their stay, Claire visits a group of standing stones.


While there, she touches the rocks and is transported back to 1743 Scotland in the midst of the Jacobite rebellion against English rule. And that’s when the real fun begins.

With the positive buzz, including a good review in the Los Angeles Times, the STARZ series seems headed for a successful run. I'm glad the OUTLANDER powers-that-be got it right. Congratulations to all involved.



  1. Patty, me too! I saw the first episode of Outlander on my iPad. I had no idea how to get Starz on my cable until you explained about Starz in your post this morning. Thank you. I do not have "on demand" though.

    When I read the Outlander, I imaged Claire to look like the actress who played Claire. But I had a hard time imagining Jamie Fraser because in an interview the author said that she saw Doctor Who and there was an actor who she thought looked like Jamie. I just saw Doctor Who and I thought the author meant the actor who played Rory (the boyfriend /husband of Melody ?). The actor who plays Jamie is HOT! The actor who played Frank Randall / Black Jack Randall is very good too. I thought the actor who played Frank was cute, kind of like the actor who played James Herriott in All Creatures Great and Small. The makeup artist did a great job because the Black Jack face looked really Mean. And the actor showed a big difference between the two characters. The Frank character was kind and thoughtful. The Black Jack character seemed vicious.

    Regarding Maisie Dobbs, I can imagine several possibilities. The actress from the tv show Bones could be Maisie but I think she is American. She and her sister are actresses. Another possibility is Carrie Moss from the movie with Juiliette Binoche called Chocolat ? I think it would be an English actress who would play Maisie Dobbs.

    I like the idea of Hilary Swank as your Tucker Sinclair.

    Happy Monday,

  2. I agree, Diana, Sam Heughan is going to be even more of a major heartthrob. I think he's perfect. I just read an article that said they thought casting Claire would be easy but the selection of Jamie would be more difficult. No so, apparently. They picked Jamie right away but didn't find Claire until shortly before they started filming. She wore a tartan-themed outfit to the audition that she bought in LA!

  3. James O. Born8/11/2014 12:08 PM

    I'll try based solely on your post.

    1. Excellent! There's also war, guns and sword fighting galore.

  4. from Jacqueline: I've never read the books, but they've always sounded really interesting - I guess I'm not that really into time travel, but there you go, as a historical novelist, it's what I do all the time! Loved this post, Patty - and the way you've really looked at the way character is interpreted from book to the screen. Thanks!

    1. The time travel part is handled so efficiently that I accepted it without question.

  5. Shockingly, I saw it. I say 'shockingly' because I tend not to get involved with series on TV, afraid that I will miss key episodes and I am not a binge TV watcher so it's hard to catch up. I never read the books but I thought there was a nice appeal to this story. As you say, many genres intersect. I agree with your assessment of the pace being leisurely, I found myself wanting something to happen in the first half to move the story along. I also think it was a little heavy on the 'romance' genre but my guess is that's what helped it become a bestseller. Will I continue with it? Can't say. But I cheated and read the synopsis of all 8 books on Amazon to see where things were going.

    1. Joel, you might be interested because I suspect you're a history buff. For me, the series swept me through the Highland clans' war with the English and their eventual destruction. Many Scots, including my ancestors, came to the US (North Carolina and Tennessee, especially) after the Battle of Culloden. I was fascinated.

  6. Thanks for the heads up on this. Loved the series to read. Hard to picture that they could capture all that on screen, but worth a try.

  7. CJ, I just started reading Outlander again. Some minor things were changed but much of the dialogue was verbatim from the book. Still waffling about adding Starz to my cable menu.