Have you heard about the contender for “Downton Abbey” status that premiered on PBS this past weekend? It’s called “Mercy Street,” and not only is it a well crafted and high production value TV series, but it was also filmed in my home state of Virginia! Even more special to my heart though, one of my best friends, Alanna, was a production assistant on the show! I got to watch the television premiere with her and friends on Sunday night, and as we popped bottles of champagne to have a toast at 10 PM during the opening credits, I was overcome with a love for my home state and the creativity that can be accomplished here.
For a long time, I felt like as a filmmaker, if I wanted to be successful, I’d have to go to L.A. or New York City. I felt like quality work wasn’t getting made and workers in the industry couldn’t find jobs unless they were connected to those entertainment hubs. But at the same time, I felt like, surely there’s more to the filmmaking and media world than just New York and Los Angeles, right? Well, Mercy Street gives me hope for that.
I watched as Alanna made the big move to L.A. at the beginning of 2014, but within 6 months she was moving home because she just didn’t feel “right” out there. She didn’t find the opportunities or the community of creatives she’d been hoping for. But when she came back to Virginia she moved to Richmond and started an internship with the Virginia Film Office that lead her to several production assistant jobs through 2015 including Mercy Street and a feature film. These were productions filming right here in Virginia! Josh Radnor (of “How I Met Your Mother” fame) was filming in my state! How cool is that?
As we watched the premiere together, different people in a our little party would exclaim, “Oh! That’s my boss!” Or, “Ah! I’ve seen that building before!” And it filled me with wonder! Not the star struck Hollywood kind of “awe” that’s usually stereotyped for small town girls like myself. No, it was pride in my friend and my state and what’s been accomplished here over the last year in the film industry.
“Mercy Street” is a promising show from what I’ve seen. It’s set in a Virginia hotel taken over by the Union army as a hospital during the Civil War. You have Nurse Mary, a Northern pseudo-nurse who may have bitten off more than she can chew when she signed up to be an army nurse as her previous experience only included caring for her sick Baron husband. She’s also extremely pro-union and disdainful at the idea of having to nurse Confederate boys in the hospital because she considers them the “enemy.” Then there’s Josh Radnor’s Dr. Foster who’s passionate about the art and science of medicine no matter what side of the war you’re on, but holds some definitive racial prejudices and an almost religious upholding of the new invention—the syringe. There’s also a spoiled but compassionate Southern belle considering nursing, and a surgeon-level trained black man who has to hide his skill.
Some of the lines were a bit stilted and conflated at times, but the characters and overall direness of the situation have me intrigued to watch more. It seems almost impossible that this is a production that filmed in Virginia and hired Virginia extras and crew. Essentially, if I didn’t know beforehand what went into it, I never would have guessed!
So here’s to Virginia! For making a great step into the film world and hopefully inspiring others to bring their productions to Virginia and spur work for actors and film crew. It’s nice to make a statement that Virginia is for Film Lovers just as much as L.A. or New York is. Now let’s keep that statement true!