When did ‘woman escapes city life for idyllic rural retreat’ become a Netflix genre?

This new Netflix genre taps into a uniquely female fantasy… and it makes for addictive viewing. 

A wee while back, I took myself hiking in the Scottish Highlands. I figured that escaping from my busy London life – the commute, the back-to-back meetings, the diary filled to bursting with social engagements – would keep me from hitting burnout mode. And, if I’m honest, a teeny-weeny sneaky part of me was convinced that…

Well, that I’d somehow wind up the manager of a failing countryside inn, learn to let go of all my emotional baggage, make loads of new friends, and find true love with a certain rugged someone (ideally a fisherman, or a gardener, or maybe even a baker – anyone, really, so long as they wore a kilt).

Despite hiking pointedly past several inns, not one person rushed out to offer me a managerial position

Together, I figured, we’d drink drams of whisky, overdose on fresh air, and transform that dilapidated inn into a rip-roaring success. Then, I’d turn my phone on to find thousands of messages from my friends back home, gaze wistfully into the distance, consider all of the options available to me, and solemnly vow never to return to the city.

“This is my home now,” I’d tell all the people suddenly gathered around me, and they’d whoop and cheer and congratulate me on learning so many important lessons.

Netflix’s Virgin River might make it look easy, but escaping the city for a rural idyll is harder than it looks.

Obviously, none of this happened. Sure, I drank whisky and yes, there was a lot of fresh air. But, despite hiking pointedly past several inns, not one person rushed out to offer me a managerial position. Not one

So I stayed for… ooh, just over a week, before returning home to the city and quickly sinking back into the busy humdrum of my old life (although, if you’re wondering, I did go on to find love with a gardener; it’s funny how life plays out sometimes).

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Over on Netflix, however, city-based women are constantly upping sticks for the country and forging successful rural-based lives for themselves. 

There’s Chesapeake Shores, which tells the tale of Abby O’Brien Winters (Meghan Ory), a high-flying career woman who leaves NYC to help keep her sister’s rural inn afloat. And there’s Falling Inn Love, in which Christina Milian’s corporate executive enters a competition to win an inn in the New Zealand countryside – and wins! 

The wildly popular Virgin River, meanwhile, sees a recently widowed big-city nurse (Alexandra Breckenridge) move to the redwood forests of northern California and meet an intriguing man. And When Calls The Heart tells the tale of Elizabeth Thatcher (Erin Krakow), a young teacher who experiences a culture shock when she lands her first classroom assignment in a small mining town named Coal Valley.

Elsewhere, there’s all the festive twists on the classic ‘woman escapes city life for idyllic rural retreat’ tale, of course. My Christmas Inn sees the life of ad executive Jen Taylor (Tia Mowry) unexpectedly turned upside down when she inherits – you guessed it! – a cosy inn in Alaska from her aunt, while Christmas Inheritance has ambitious heiress Ellen Langford (Eliza Taylor) stranded at the town inn in Snow Falls. 

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Holiday In The Wild ups the ante when NYC veterinarian Kate Conrad (Kristin Davis) finds love and happiness at a Zamibian elephant sanctuary. We’ve got Castle For Christmas out later this year, all about an American businesswoman trying to buy a Scottish castle. And…

Well, you get the picture anyway. Netflix is filled to bursting with these escapist fantasies, all hitting the same beats; city woman swerves burnout with a trip to the countryside, realises it’s what her life has been missing all along, and stays there. Forever

Is Holiday in the Wild an attainable fantasy? Probably not, but it certainly gives us pause for thought…

It’s a wildly popular genre – yes, I’m branding it a genre – and it’s one that’s even seeped into the world of videogames (here’s looking at you, Stardew Valley and Animal Crossing). But, quite honestly, it doesn’t matter how many of these films and shows are churned out; they will forever hit a nerve with everyone watching. After all, today’s world is very demanding of us all, especially women. 

We’re overstressed, overtired, and overworked. Our careers are (to quote the ever-wise Amy Poehler) treating us like “bad boyfriends”, demanding that we give more and more of ourselves for very little in return. We’re constantly being convinced to give up our precious free time, always. And we’re genuinely desperate to hit the ‘reset’ button on our lives – we just can’t find the damn button to do so. 

So, yes, why shouldn’t we take solace in all these delicious ‘I quit’ scenarios being served up by Netflix on a near-daily basis?

They challenge us to consider whether or not the life we’re leading is truly making us happy

It’s an entirely unrealistic dream, of course; how many people do you know IRL who’ve unexpectedly inherited an inn from a distant relative? Really? The answer is none, isn’t it? Still, though, these films and TV shows serve as an important reminder all the same. They challenge us to consider whether or not the life we’re leading is truly making us happy – and, if the answer is a resounding “hell no!”, to make a change.

Sure, it might not be so massive as throwing the towel in on the life we’ve made for ourselves, but a few little tweaks here and there – a much-needed holiday, a weekend without our smartphones, a lunchtime walk, an attempt to bake banana bread from scratch – might just be enough to ease the pressure on the gas pedal. 

And, let’s face it, we could all do with doing that every once in a while, couldn’t we?

Images: Netflix

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