Location, location, location

We tend to think of Portwenn as a place that no one leaves, or that people return to if they leave, e.g. Al, Louisa, Joe Penhale, Ruth, Jennifer, even Sally. There have also been some who came to town from elsewhere. On the other hand, there have been some characters who have moved on, e.g. Elaine, Pauline, Danny, Roger, Eleanor, Terry, Mark Mylow, and Ted. I know that in the US it’s not unusual to move from where we grew up. One 2008 source states: More than six-in-ten adults (63%) have moved to a new community at least once in their lives, while 37% have never left their hometowns.

But it’s mixed…the same source states: Most adults (57%) have not lived outside their current home state in the U.S. At the opposite end of the spectrum, 15% have lived in four or more states.

I started thinking about this because I, myself, moved from where I grew up a long time ago and never really considered living there. My children also live away from us and, in our case, that means hours of flying time away.

There are plenty of reasons for leaving one’s hometown: job opportunities, desire to see other places, being transferred by one’s job, being in the military, attending college and then settling near there, or even being run out of town. There are also many reasons to stay: like the location, enjoy having family around, never thought about leaving, tradition or inheriting a family business.

We see a lot of the above in DM with Louisa’s family probably being the best example. Louisa’s mother left Portwenn to move to Spain when L was 11 y.o. and her father took care of her. But her father was a gambler and soon was forced to leave Portwenn under a cloud when he was accused of stealing the Lifeboat money. At that point Louisa had no mother or father around and she was in the awkward position of defending her father while being suspicious that he was at fault. Nevertheless, Louisa likes Portwenn so much, she doesn’t want to live anywhere else. She says it’s where her life is. Beyond the fact that this location is where they want to film the series and that means Louisa and the many others who seem bound to this village (Bert, Al, Mrs. T) must live there, what can we say about this setting? What makes Louisa so attached to Portwenn?

As I noted in my “Kitchen Table” post, home is supposed to be a place where you find sanctuary and where you can go as a refuge. Oftentimes it’s an actual house that your family has lived in for years, like Joan’s farm, and where you have fond memories of various family occasions. Louisa doesn’t have a particular home in Portwenn; she seems to change homes fairly frequently. Portwenn, therefore, is her sanctuary and the villagers are her family. Then, too, she has her job at the school and that seems to have deep importance to Louisa. She’s been to London and prefers Portwenn even if that means a lower salary and fewer extracurricular activities. She has very little wanderlust and likes knowing the community and being a member of it. Much like Martin, she has her routine and feels happiest when she can stick to a known regimen.

Once Louisa and Martin are married, they will continue to live at the surgery. Here Louisa is giving up having any space of her own, and that has to be difficult for her. She has to either use the kitchen table or Martin’s office for any work space. It didn’t occur to me before that Louisa tells Bert when he’s driving them to the lodge:”I don’t think I’ve ever been out this way before.” She’s lived in the area all her life, but here’s a place she’s never seen. I think we have to take this as more than just an offhand comment. Getting married is embarking on new territory and the first night is only the beginning of a whole new world for her.

I also think the scene where L is dreaming and imagines being on a picnic with M is telling. Soon the earth starts to rumble and eventually the ground opens up and is about to swallow her, but then M reaches out to save her. She imagines him rescuing her, but is she thinking in terms of turning him into someone different from who he really is, or is he rescuing her from the life she’s had in Portwenn? The direction of her life has to be a concern for her. This village has no eligible men to speak of, she doesn’t have that many female friends either, and she would like to have children. Staying in Portwenn could mean forfeiting any chance of a full life for L…until Martin arrives.

The cast and crew often talk about the setting of Cornwall and Port Isaac as one of the characters. We should look at the setting-the cliffs, the narrow streets, the small houses with low ceilings, the farms and isolation. All of this is physically confining and constricting. Daphne du Maurier is mentioned several times in a few episodes. She was known for setting many of her novels in Cornwall and for making the location a character in them. Author Sarah Waters is quoted as saying “her novels and stories are fantastically moody and resonant, and Rebecca, in particular, just feels so fundamentally right – like a myth, or a fairy tale.” In many ways, DM has that mythical or fairy tale quality, although where du Maurier used the setting to give her stories suspense and a gothic aura, the filming for DM is done so that we rarely see a day with bad weather or anything gloomy. The cliffs that seem so foreboding in a du Maurier story, have a charm and beauty in this series even though there are a few times when danger lurks, e.g. the baker falling off the edge of the cliff while trying to steal chough bird eggs.

It’s somewhat hard to reach Portwenn, although there is a small airport nearby (in Newquay) and there’s always a car or a bus. Apparently the train service to Port Isaac was discontinued in 1966, but there’s still train service between London and Wadebridge or Bodmin. The ocean and its tides are a factor too. Water access would be limited during low tide. But none of this appears to make the villagers feel trapped. Instead it contributes to the sense of community they have. They put on community contests and performances, they celebrate and mourn together. The villagers also accept the many quirks and idiosyncrasies of their neighbors — Stewart’s PTSD, Michael’s strangeness, Malcolm’s hypochondria and pigeons, etc.

When it comes to some of the other members of the village, Bert is the most committed to staying there. He can see no reason to leave and tells Al that. Sally, too, must be quite attached to Portwenn since she returns after humiliating herself and receiving therapy. (I frankly did not expect her back.) Unfortunately, she continues to behave oddly and by episode 8 the town is no longer so accepting of her. Al has tried to leave, but without much luck. However, he finally seems to have found a way to stay while also separating from his father, and his search for a girlfriend may also have been resolved. Morwenna doesn’t have the same problem with ending up with Al as her friend had when she tried to get Al a date with her.

Ruth has made the most of moving to Portwenn. She’s written a book, moved into town where she can feel safer, and agreed to turn the farm into a fishing business with Al. She has Martin and Louisa nearby and she can depend on them as much as they depend on her.

To me this village is a microcosm of what I see all around me. Wherever I’ve lived there have been some people who have lived there all their lives and have no intention of moving, and others who can’t wait to move on. Finding the right mixture of setting and community is our ultimate goal. Once we find it, it’s hard to let it go.

Originally posted 2014-02-16 22:49:26.

3 thoughts on “Location, location, location

  1. Diana

    I no longer find “Doc Martin” interesting. The story lines are really bad. He’s getting on my nerves as is his wife. I do believe the writers have run out of new ideas. That stupid thing with his blood problem has run it’s course. Even the other actors on the show are not given anything new and interesting to add to the show. Same things over and over. Even that woman with the neck brace is so stupid to keep on.

  2. kjacobson@mindspring.com Post author

    You have some strong feelings! Although I think the show has reached a good point for it to conclude, I still find much to appreciate in it. In fact, I thought Mrs. Tishell (who wears the neck collar) was given a much better role in series 7.

    Some repetition is to be expected if the characters are to stay consistent. My concern is that the story should be changed enough to keep it interesting and still have the complexity and depth it’s had for the first 5 series.

  3. Amy

    I wonder what the statistics are in England, especially in small towns like Port Isaac, with regard to how many people leave and how many stay when they reach adulthood. I assume that they move less than Americans do. When I visited Assisi many years ago, I was amazed that people were living in homes that had been their family’s home for hundreds of years. You almost never see that here in the US, even in small towns.

    So my guess is that Louisa, Bert, Al, etc., are pretty typical of the English in staying where they grew up. There is a real comfort in that. The characters who left probably were written out because the actors wanted out or their story lines ran out. In real life, perhaps more would have stayed.

    Louisa was, of course, prepared to move to London with Martin when they first married. But then Joan died and his blood phobia returned.

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