Jesse, young boy, playing in the countryside of his village. Thinks about new restrictions on village life, due to people leaving, school shrinking. Lena, his mum, insists she will always be there to teach them.
Talk of banning cars, impact on countryside life. Jesse called out to play in the village by older boy Euan. They steal tools from Mr Arnott’s shed
Jesse meets puppy, names him Mister Maliks, because he looks like Mr Malik’s dog Polo. Builds shelter, gets food, keeps him a secret and thinks about him all the time.
Marshal says they can’t have a dog, Jessie is confounded. Marshal,a builder/architect has been affected by economic decline in countryside, that comes from what could be a Brexit response – no workers for poorly paid farm labour leads to increasing food importation, which devalues land, shifting the economic balance of power. Jesse leaves house early to see Mister again.
News reaches village of white nationalists moving into some abandoned houses in nearby village of Little Denton. John, a farmer clinging on to rural life, is worried for visiting Chetna, daughter of Mr Malik, who died in the pandemic a few years before. Jesse and Mister forget the warning and encounter one of the new arrivals in the woods. Jesse is terrified of the gun-carrying man who looks like a teacher on the TV. He keeps it to himself until it bursts out, and he tells his parents about the man, and the puppy he is caring for in the shelter behind the old barn. Unexpectedly to Jesse, Lena and Marshal are welcoming to Mister Maliks, and he moves to the house.
Storms hit, keeping everyone in. The former home of residents Tina and Kyle, who died in the pandemic, damaged by a tree falling. The pandemic was known as October flu and its effects are still being felt.
Summer, children partly occupied by Lena, finding big trees. The biggest is the churchyard yew. Marshal and Lena under pressure and at odds with each other about whether to leave or stay. Jesse and Pavel meet the nationalists on the recreation ground.
Half a year passes. winter and a prolonged power cut puts more pressure on the villagers. There is constant news of unrest in the cities, riots and factional fighting. The pandemic some years before lead to a tightening of state control and there is a mix of complacency and unrest in the cities, where people increasingly live.
It is 30-odd years in the future. Isolde is preparing to visit the prison to meet the man accused of killing her mother in a terror attack. She can just about remember the attack, can remember snippets about her mother, but she has reached a time when she feel lost and wants to re-connect with herself, by connecting with what happened to her mother.
Isolde walks to Purley Maximum Security prison, an automated system guides her through, as is her right, to observe justice being done, by the means of seeing the prisoner who harmed her. She is uneasy. She meets the man, who stuns her by telling her he knew her mother.
Isolde is thrown by this information and what it might mean. Though she has fragments of memory, she doesn’t have anyone to ask as she went to the children’s home as soon as she was orphaned. She thinks about her childhood, the tough resilience it built and how finally falling in love she began to be able to shrug off that armour. But the relationship broke down under the stress of trying to conceive and her heart was broken by the ending, and by the fact that she lost a child conceived finally when it was too late to notice, too late to take care. It feels like another abandonment. She speculates about how the prisoner would know her mother, asks a friend, Arthur, with knowledge of the ghost web (an illegal remnant of the internet preserved by activists) to do some research.
Arthur learns that the man was connected to a group called The Claimants, once a peaceful organisation that after the bomb that killed Isolde’s mother, were outlawed. He thinks that her mother was also part of the group. Isolde is shocked, but wants to know more. She goes back to visit the prisoner who tells her that they lived on a farm together, he dhows her on a drawn map where the farm was.
Some years have passed. Life in countryside gets harder as investment is taken away. The villagers adapt where they can but more people have been forced to leave. Jesse thinks about Euan, killed in a skirmish by some of the white nationalists, who disappeared from Little Denton before the police came to intervene. There is a plain stone in the churchyard where he is buried.
The lure of London grows as Marshal’s work gets harder and harder and they finally leave for the city. Jesse and Marshal take his car into the fields and drive it into the ground, leave it there.
Isolde is walking to the farm to see what she can learn about her mother. The roads are abandoned and though there are transport options, walking gives her autonomy – and time to be with what she wants to learn. She has a copy of the map sent by the prisoner and one made by Arthur, outlining the likely location of one of the rare homesteads where people kept farming in the countryside.
Isolde walks the countryside on her second day, looking for wild food on the way. She shelters from a storm.
She meets Lee, on the run from one of the White Towns – a development of the white nationalists who moved out of the city into abandoned towns or villages to create white-only areas. Lee tells her that because he is gay, life in the White Town was unbearable/dangerous for him. They decide to travel together.
They pass through Chelmsford, observing the strange new uses of an almost empty town.
They leave Chelmsford, walk through to a roadside pub where they meet a pedlar, one of the traders who deals between city and country. They sleep in the pub.
Jesse is growing up in London but misses the countryside. He is old enough to start university. But he is disenchanted by the industry focus of his studies and his interest is in a community garden and a pretty girl called Jada.
Jesse finally meets Jada and begins working in the garden. Marshal works all hours.
The worst fears are realised and a new variant of the pandemic rears up. Lena is one of those who dies. Grief puts distance between Jesse and Marshal. Jesse feels lost in the city but finds some solace in the work of the garden. He stops going to university. He asks Marshal if he can go back to visit the house in the village.
Isolde and Lee find the farm.
On arrival, Isolde discovers that she has a sister, Esther, who grew up on the farm, and now has 3 children. Jada, her godmtother, is at the farm too. This had been Isolde’s home before her mother Stella died.
Isolde tries to take in all the information. She learns that the prisoner is Jesse, that he didn’t plant the bomb, but due to his Claimants connection he was a useful patsy. Jada had tried to bring Isolde with them but had been thwarted by the state. She sees Jada again for the first time since Stella died. Jada is unwell, expects to die, but content.
Isolde and Lee get used to the farm and decide to stay a little while, as Isolde has so much to take on and learn about her new family.
We see Jesse in prison.
Isolde meets Ben. They fit in to farm life. Lee tells them a little about life in the White Town and why he had to leave
Jada asks Isolde to embroider her something, as she asks all her visitors. Jada chooses the map Jesse drew.
Jesse looks at books about the human body
Harvest at the farm. Isolde hangs out in the mill with Petra, starts to become curious about the nature of manual work.
Francis, a traveller arrives, teaches Isolde to make twine from nettle. Her interest is sparked. She begins to experiment with different materials. She is more or less happy.
A pedlar brings news that White Towners are looking for Lee.
After a misunderstanding and as a result of ongoing frustrations with Esther presuming that everything is solved now for Isolde, Isolde and Esther argue.
Isolde walks on her own and realises that her sensitivity was caused by the knowledge that she has kept to herself that it is a year since she lost her baby.
When she returns to the farm there is an altercation, a stand-off with some White Towners who threaten to come back for Lee.
Lee is upset and anxious.
Next the White Towners kill Misha’s pet rabbit, tying a ribbon round its neck to warn Lee.
Nerves jangle at the farm, but preparations are made incase of an attack, which comes in due course. The farm is boosted with neighbours, and there are White Towners from two settlements. They are seen off, after a tense confrontation between Lee and his father, and an epic intervention by Leanne, the matriarch, after Jada, of the homestead.
They reorder after the fray. But Lee is anxious, especially about bringing harm to these new friends. Jada wants to help him, so with Ben as guide, they leave on foot again for London. Isolde has mixed feelings, about Ben too, and about missing her sister. But she feels like she has failed, when so much was on offer. She is heavy hearted.
Jesse and Mister leave for their old village home. He worries about Marshal but grief has pulled them apart. He feels content to be back, old memories of Lena helping him to come to terms with her death. They sit in Marshal’s old car, almost grown over in the field.
Esther and Isolde have repaired their rift and understand each other better. They are both sad about parting. But Isolde thinks about Lee’s needs. She sits with Jada long into the night to finish her embroidery before she leaves.
Isolde Ben and Lee head to London, walking for 2 days.
Life gets back to a hectic version of normal after the second pandemic. There is a cavalier vibe in the air, but quietly the state is exerting ever closer control. Almost all food is imported and the countryside economy has fully collapsed.
Jesse focuses on work in the city garden, and though her realises he loves Jada, he can’t imagine a future for them and puts it aside. Soon he meets Brita and they become a couple.
The gardeners work with a community group called The Claimants (who never were terrorists)
Jesse and Brita decide they will leave the city and finally get Marshal’s blessing to move back to the house in the village. All starts well.
But their relationship falters, soon they are distant, and eventually Brita ends the relationship.
Isolde cherishes some time alone in her flat, away from the tyranny of the collective. Lee gets his tattoo removed.
Ben has to leave, Isolde realises how much she will miss him.
Lee makes his way, anxiously at first. Then he picks up a social life and Isolde barely sees him, though she worries about him. She realises she feels as adrift – if in a different way – as she did before she went to see Jesse in the prison. She feels it has all been a failure.
Jesse lives alone in the house with Mister, who is getting old. He calls Jada, they spend hours on the phone to each other. He dreads her knowing how he really feels. He is scared of Mister dying.
In London, the Claimants have created a community hub and Jada helps them build a garden. But Stella, mother to a little Isolde, suggests they move out to a self-sufficient farm community.
Jada makes Isolde promise she will visit Jesse. She is restless about this chore, now she knows he is innocent it feels too painful and she is embarrassed to have blamed him for Stella’s death.
She fishes out an embroidery that Jada made for Jesse, heads for the prison. They talk. He is overwhelmed when she tells him about Jada. Isolde is appalled when the angry visitor arrives to blame Jesse for the death of his wife Barb. She follows him home, with no particular intention.
Lee comes and goes, Isolde distracts herself with work.
Mister dies. Jesse is heartbroken. The wall between Jesse and Marshal opens again but Jesse feels entirely alone.
Jada and Stella have moved happily to the farm. Jada calls Jesse often, then, worried, goes to see him. They smoke a joint in Marshal’s car. Rashly, not used to the weed, he confesses his love for her, and miraculously she responds. They live between the village, the farm and London before finally moving to the farm.
They are happy, the farm flourishes.
But Jada must return to London to support Stella, now with a second daughter. The political turmoil has heated up and tensions are high. The state feels more and more like a threat.
They go to London, Jesse is glad to see Marshal who promises he will visit the farm.
Isolde stops in the market on the way to visit Jesse.
Jesse dies alone in his cell.
Isolde is notified. She doesn’t know what to do. She finds her way to the angry man’s house. Tries to explain why he shouldn’t blame Jesse and is taken aback by his gentle concern for her. They feel bonded in their strange, shared history.
Jesse’s remains are dealt with by an efficient system.
Jesse and Jada prepare to leave London with Stella and her two girls Isolde and Esther. They are waylaid by Stella who wants to see one of the activists, Milos, to warn him about the ramped-up police activity.
Stella and a fractious Isolde get ice cream while Jada (carrying baby Esther) and Jesse go into the store to talk to Milos. A bomb goes off. Jada and Esther are separated from the others. A conveniently waiting police detail arrest Milos, and Jesse, who is a bonus arrest.
Isolde is depressed and guilty because of Jesse’s death, lamenting that she could do nothing for him. She knows she must tell Jada, who won’t hear about it otherwise. In her grief she comes to an understanding of her own depression – she didn’t protect her baby from her own grief at the breakdown of her relationship, as she sees it. She feels culpable for its loss.
Isolde and Lee go to find a pedlar to send a message to Jada
The Pedlar Henk has a reply. The message is from Jada written by Petra, who adds that Jada is very near the end of her life, asking Isolde to come and see her. She knows she will go. Because it is winter and storms are unpredictable, she fixes a lift in a drone van to go most of the way.
She meets the drone pilot in Camden. They land a little south of the farm, near the sea wall that Isolde remembers Jesse talking about. She decides to go there on the way, a pointless but necessary tribute to him.
She walks the four mile causeway, breached, though passable all the way, so that one side is lagoon, the other open sea. It should cut out several miles. In the middle, she stops, carves the two letter Js from Jada’s embroidery amongst the other names in the wall. She thinks of Jesse and Jada, young and happy, free.
At the breach planks are lashed over the gap that only just dips under sea level. She holds a rope rail and crosses. But she slips, slides into the ocean. The cold fills her storm suit, she falls into a silent moment of shocked panic that connects her to the moment the bomb went off. It is a moment of completion. She is pushed into action, to save herself and scramble back to the wall. Cold is a danger. She wrings out what she can, heads for houses at the far end of the wall.
In an empty house she finds enough bed linen and abandoned children’s clothes to make herself warm. She heads off grateful that it is only a couple of hours walk to the farm.
She is welcomed and happy to arrive. Much fuss made of her and her strange clothing.
She sits quietly with Jada, regretting that she had left.
Ben is really happy to see her but respectfully cautious. He shows her some empty cottages near by where he could set up water and solar power if she wanted to stay, connected but able to be alone. They imagine a rope walk running down the grassed over village high street. Isolde is warmed, but due to a sense of previous failure, cautious still.
Time passes, it’s the end of winter.
Isolde realises that as she and Esther talk about Jada, she needs that same grieving process for her own unborn child. She tells Esther, finally speaks to her in an unguarded way about her life. It is cathartic and healing for her.
Jada dies. All at the farm are bonded and sorrowful. Leanne reminds them of what their way of dealing with the dead is, how they will mark this passing. They are all heartbroken. Isolde determines that she has been inside her own head long enough and now she is needed to look after her sister and the others. It is a kind of relief.
Petra asks Isolde and Esther to help her prepare Jada for burial at the field edge. They find that the embroidery had always been intended for a purpose, the pieces of cloth were shaped to make a beautiful burial gown.
They all give something to the grave to go with her. Isolde puts a length of twine made from her own hair and the map from Jesse.
There is a wake. Rather drunk and drained, Isolde and Ben walk to the beach, Isolde wants to go to ‘her’ house. They finally come together, making love on a blanket on the floor of the cottage.
A storm keeps Isolde from making a decision about what to do. She is worried about Lee, it pulls her back to London.
A few weeks pass, a break in the weather and a message from Lee, asking if he would be able to come back to the farm. Isolde is relieved. She is falling for Ben, and for life on the farm. They start work on making the cottage a place to live.
She goes to visit the place where Jada is buried. She thinks of her body being stitched into the meadow, becoming a different part of nature. We learn that she is pregnant, that new life is unfurling in both the living and the dead.