A challenging conflict is in the heart of the story. We feel lucky when a big, potentially devastating, infuriating, seemingly impossible-to-get-out-of-conflicts is the reply to our most helpful question: “what if…” It is up to us to challenge the protagonist(s), excite readers/viewers and have their eyes glued to the medium of their choice. For instance:
“What if your little daughter accuses your best friend of sexual abuse? What if she is right? But what if he is innocent?”Read more about the conflict from the movie award-winning (Best Actor, Cannes) The Hunt.
Before I move on to Mary Bryant, Please note that I give a more detailed description of the plot and include great scenes and quotes in my Mary Bryant review on my movies blog. It is also a less spoiled version of the story. Here, I’ll list from the less spoiling conflicts to the most spoiling ones. So you might not want to analyze Mary Bryant’s conflicts with me if you haven’t seen the show.
Also remember that while it is based on a true story, some conflicts may be writer Peter Berry’s additions. But fictional or real, I was amazed by every single one.
TV mini-series (The Incredible Journey of) Mary Bryant is based on the real life of the English convict Mary Broad (who became Mary Bryant through marriage) who was sent to Australia (in the 18th century) as a part of her sentence to work as a laborer as the English soldiers saw fit.
Now, in theory, King George is being generous. Instead of hanging criminals, he is sending them off to a far away land where they’ll work and redeem themselves. In truth, their “redemption” starts with a 9-month boat trip where they are treated like animals. There’s no distinction of treatment when it comes to the crime. It didn’t matter you were stealing to not to starve (like Mary), or smuggling some booze along your fish (like Will). You were treated the same with rapists and mass murderers. In the soldiers’ eyes the women are a distraction for the men, and they are seen as whores anyway.
Now, Mary (played by Romola Garai) might be poor, but she is smart, determined and dedicated. And unfortunately, she is pregnant. She thinks that maybe, if Lieutenant Clarke, likes her, her life will be easier. After all, he seems nicer, more humane and well…let’s face it…getting on the good side of a handsome soldier (compliments of the English actor Jack Davenport) seems a lot better than traveling in a cage, starving and gagging. And she has a baby to think of.
She unintentionally gets her chance when she almost drowns and fellow prisoner Will (played by Alex O’Loughlin) saves her life. But it is Clarke that carries her up and gives her a place to rest. He knows that she only stole for staying alive, and believes she’s truly redeemable. Oh and he’s smitten by her beauty. It goes well for a while. He’s not attacking her, she is clean and full and getting lessons. And she shares her food with her friend.
Problems start when he notices she is pregnant and she turns from potential lady material to “whore” in his eyes. Now, Clarke doesn’t immediately punish her. But he does push her away with initial disgust, and goes as far as to have her friend whipped because she openly disobeyed him.
Conflict 1: Your Principles/Values vs. Comfort/Chance for a Better Life
Door Number 1: Explain the situation to the guy. Maybe you were raped. Maybe a guy promised you marriage, you were young and foolish and it was hardly your fault. Maybe you thought you married him but he turned out to be a conman. Whatever. Lie or truth, pregnancy can happen for a lot of reasons, and it can be explained to a guy who, when calm, seems to believe you. Now, remember, this is Mary’s situation in the 18th century, as a convict, on a boat. Not yours.
Door Number 2: You leave his quarters immediately. He is a self-righteous jerk who’s only slightly better than the rest of the soldiers, and he is a part of the system. Almost all women on the ship are whore in his eyes, and he had her friend whipped so badly, that it is a miracle she made it in those horrible conditions.
Mary chooses number 2. She might be a thief, and on the search for a better life for her baby, but she’s loyal to her friend, and her humanity. And she sees the lieutenant for who he is- and this creates the grounds for the other conflicts about to come.
After she goes back, she treats Will better, and realizes that he is just a nice guy who probably didn’t really hurt anyone.
After they arrive, the rules are established by the Governor travelling with them. Men are to stay away from the tents. Not that Will listens. But Mary isn’t about to act like a hormonal teen. She has a baby, and things are complicated enough. But she likes Will, and soldiers will probably be more understanding if they are serious.
Will gets on board, and together they land a fishing deal from the Governor. Will has the skill, and they get to be paid a portion of the catch. And married couples can build houses and live there as opposed to tents, so they get married it. They are crazy about each other anyway.
It turns out to be the right call for many reasons, to the resentment of Clarke. They make friends with others, start a family, have another kid and live in not-so-horrible conditions, given that they were prisoners about to be hanged.
But their happiness is short-lived. England isn’t that happy with the colony results, and food is in short supply. Clarke announces that Will won’t have his share of the fish from now on. With 2 kids to feed and people dying out of hunger and fatigue and diseases, Mary decides that they have to escape. They have the people they can trust, but they need the bigger boat of the soldiers. Problem? They need to store food, which they need to steal from storage whose key doesn’t leave Clarke’s side.
Conflict 2: Your family’s survival vs. Sleeping with a Man You Despise
(while being married to guy you love.)
Door Number 1: You take your children and go to Clarke. You ask for his help. Your children are starving, and you realized that Will wasn’t great husband material after all. Clarke is more than happy that you saw sense. That you chose him.
Of course this is a ploy to keep him distracted, and while you fake emotions, you can’t fake the sex. And your husband knows. And he has to agree. He can’t risk his kids dying of hunger, can he?
Naturally Will’s situation is a great conflict too. He can’t stop his wife, even though he wants to. He doesn’t want to agree, but he has to. Knowing his wife is sleeping with another guy, a guy that he despises is extremely hard. But watching his children die….that’d be much harder.
Door Number 2: She doesn’t go to Clarke. They all die, sooner or later. Along with their children, knowing they haven’t done everything they could.
It’s horrible, but it is a no-brainer. Will and Mary choose option 1.
Since all the door number 2s in the conflicts will also cause death, I’ll just provide the conflict and the characters’ choices from now on.
Conflict 3: Risking Escape vs. Involving Dangerous Men You Don’t Trust
The last thing Will and Mary need is to have 2 men on the board they despise, but they don’t have a choice. They’ll be exposed or hurt. They came too far to give up. So they include the men. Who don’t like the idea of having a woman on board. Who believe women are there to have sex with. Who don’t like the idea of kids on board. Luckily for Mary and Will, they need Will to sail and Will isn’t going anywhere without his family.
Conflict 4: Leaving a Loyal Friend Behind vs. Getting Everyone Else Killed
When the soldiers catch up with them on land close to the colony, and Sam can’t catch up with the rest, they have to risk capture or death. Now some want to go back. Will can’t openly leave him behind. Even Martin (one of the men they don’t trust) doesn’t want to leave him behind. Not that Marry wants to, but again, she puts her family’s survival above all, and she leads the boat away.
Things seem easier to deal with once they reach their destination. 2 men short, but alive. They convince the Dutch about them being English people who lost their boats and crew, and they start leading a luxury life – a temporary one that will last until the Dutch can arrange a boat to take them home.
Everyone except Will is happy. He is unhappy about all the lying, and he is angry about everyone’s fascination with Mary. It even gets to the point that he suggests Mary stays here and lead a better life but Mary isn’t about to let him give up on them in a depressed state. They love each other, and she is with him by choice.
Conflict 5: Sacrificing Your Life vs. Giving Your Wife and Kids a Chance at Escape
This is not even a choice for a guy who loves his family, and Will isn’t about to let them killed after everything they have been through. When the English find them and their identities are exposed, Will sees that Mary and the kids are trapped. Instead of escaping, he grabs the attention of Clarke, giving them a chance at escape. He gets caught, and gets killed (though his last move was to plunge at Clarke with knives).
Unfortunately, the guys catch Mary and the kids anyway. Back on their second 9-month boat trip, things are worse. Mary has lost Will, the kids die out of a disease they caught.
Conflict 6: Fighting with Your Last Breath vs. Giving Up
Back at home, waiting for the trial that’ll decide to hang them, Mary is despondent. The remaining 2 are hanging on to the hope that the society’s support might save them, if Mary made a heartfelt speech at court. Except, Mary has given up. Depressed and feeling guilty over losing her family…the reason she did everything for…
But at court, she says that she is not a hero. And she doesn’t mind being hanged. She lost everything. But she does defend her fellow mates- who better or worse- followed her decisions. Took the risks. Survived up to this point. And her speech, gets them off.
She wins against Clarke. And England. They part to resume their lives, though Mary is the one who has lost the most.
I might have skipped some, but these 6 are very compelling conflicts spread over several hours. The fact that most were real conflicts experienced in real lives make them all the more effective. They break your heart, and make you angry. But in the end you find yourself admiring Mary (and Will). You were rooting for them anyway, but as the stakes go higher and their choices get more difficult, the more engaged you get.
The protagonists go through hell again and again, making it impossible for the viewer to stop watching.
And as far as what I’d do if I were in Mary’s shoes…I think one of Will’s lines sums it up perfectly:
Will: I could never leave that boy behind. Not more than I could sleep with Ralph Clarke. But we got this far because you could. They all know it but none of them could say it.
Want more conflicts? Try: