In 1945, former World War II nurse Claire Randall and her husband Frank are visiting Inverness, Scotland. She returns on her own to the standing stones at Craigh na Dun, and suddenly finds herself in the middle of a skirmish between Redcoats and rebel Scottish Highlanders. She is attacked by Frank's double, Redcoat Captain Jonathan "Black Jack" Randall, but rescued by some Scottish Gaels. She is able to use her medical knowledge to help one of them, Jamie Fraser. Claire realises she has somehow travelled back in time to the 18th century. She wants to go back to the stones and try to return to the 20th century, but is held at Castle Leoch as healer to the clan. Claire comes to understand that the Gaels are covertly collecting funds for the Jacobite army. Knowing from history that their cause is doomed to fail, Claire tries to warn them. Jamie marries Claire to protect her from the sadistic Randall, but Claire also feels guilty about Frank, who in 1945 is losing hope of finding her. When she finally revisits the stones, they hear each other calling through time, but she is then captured by British troops, and taken to Fort William.
Jamie saves Claire from Randall, and they return to Leoch. Claire is tricked by Laoghaire, a young woman who Jamie has rejected, into visiting her friend Geillis Duncan just as she is arrested for witchcraft. They are both about to be found guilty, but Geillis confesses and exonerates Claire. As Geillis is taken away to be burned, Claire realises that she too is from the future. Claire tells Jamie her true story, but also decides to stay with him. He takes her to his family home of Lallybroch, where they meet his strongwilled sister Jenny. But Jamie is captured by the Redcoats, and held at Wentworth Prison for execution. Randall subjects Jamie to torture. Claire manages to get into the prison, but when Randall finds her, Jamie agrees to submit to Randall in exchange for her freedom. Randall rapes Jamie, but Murtagh and the clansmen then rescue him and Randall is left for dead. Claire treats a damaged and suicidal Jamie, and they eventually set sail for France. Claire hopes they can meet Prince Charles Stuart and somehow change history to prevent the catastrophic Battle of Culloden. Claire reveals to Jamie that she is pregnant.
In Paris, Claire and Jamie try to prevent the Jacobite risings by subverting the funds that King Louis XV of France is likely to provide to the pretender Charles Stuart. They make an enemy of the powerful Comte St. Germain. Jamie becomes a confidante of Charles, hoping to discourage him and sabotage his plans. Claire learns that Randall is still alive, but fears telling Jamie. She eventually does, and when Randall appears in Paris, Claire makes Jamie swear to keep him alive until Frank's ancestry is assured. Randall's rape of Fergus, Jamie and Claire's adopted son, prompts Jamie to challenge him to a duel; this trauma results in Claire losing her baby. A grieving Claire and Jamie return to Scotland. Knowing that the Jacobite uprising is now inevitable, Jamie assures that the forces of Charles Edward Stuart will defeat the English. The Jacobites are victorious at the first battle of Prestonpans, but Angus dies of his injuries. Afterwards, Claire convinces Randall to marry the woman carrying his dying brother Alex's baby, thus ensuring that Frank will someday be born. Set for the Battle of Culloden, Jamie convinces a pregnant Claire to return to the 20th century to protect their child.
Twenty years after returning, Frank has died, and Claire takes her daughter Brianna to Scotland. Fiery Brianna discovers that Frank is not really her father, but refuses to believe Claire's story about time travelling until she witnesses Geillis Duncan pass through the stones. Claire discovers that Jamie did not die at Culloden, and vows to return to him.
Development and production
In July 2012, it was reported that Sony Pictures Television had secured the rights to Gabaldon's Outlander series, with Moore attached to develop the project and Jim Kohlberg (Story Mining and Supply Co) producing. Sony closed the deal with Starz in November 2012, and Moore hired a writing team in April 2013. That June, Starz picked up the Outlander project for a 16-episode order, and in August it was announced that John Dahl would be directing the first two episodes. Starz CEO Chris Albrecht later said that he had greenlighted several genre projects, including Outlander, to shift the network's series development toward "audiences that were being underserved" to "drive a real fervent fan base that then becomes the kind of advocacy group for the shows themselves". Calling it "a different kind of show than has ever been on, in my memory", Albrecht believed that Outlander's combination of fantasy, action, a strong central romance and a feminist focus would set it apart.
Another aspect distinguishing the show is the use of Scottish Gaelic on air. Àdhamh Ó Broin is the language consultant and Griogair Labhruidh sang in Gaelic on the second season's soundtrack.
On August 15, 2014, after only the pilot episode had aired, the network renewed the series for a second season of at least 13 episodes, based on the second book in Gabaldon's series, Dragonfly in Amber. On June 1, 2016, Starz renewed the series for a third and fourth season, which will adapt the third and fourth Outlander novels, Voyager and Drums of Autumn.
Moore said of the pilot: "There's a lot of things we did in the first 30 to 40 minutes that aren't in the book or are compilations of things that happened in the book". He emphasized that he did not want to present the time-travel dimension in a traditional special effects-laden science fiction manner. Describing the adaptation of the first season as "straightforward", he explained: "it was always kind of clear what the basic structure was: Claire’s trying to get home, then she meets this guy, now she’s falling in love, now she has a conflict, will she go home. You lay it out in a very linear fashion". Regarding the darker tone of the season's second half, he said: "the show becomes more complicated and the emotional journey more wrenching".
Regarding the second season and the source novel Dragonfly in Amber, Moore said:
The book is a more complicated structure in terms of how Diana [Gabaldon] wrote it ... So it was not as easy an adaptation as the first season was ... Book 2 is just a more complex book. It’s laid out very differently, as a result it took more wrangling to try to figure out how to translate this particular story into our season. There were more complications, there were more characters ... It was a bigger task. The thing that gives me the most comfort is that Diana likes it a lot. She had said, 'Oh, I really liked the way you did it. it was a difficult plot, I know, but I think you really found the essence of it. You really found the through line that really defines what this part of the journey is.' ... It’s not going to be a literal adaptation because I don’t think that’s possible with the second book ... But I think it’s very much the same story, the major characters are all represented, the major scenes are all represented, and it still gets you to all the same places you want to go.
Gabaldon was employed as consultant to the TV production. When asked in June 2015 about the adaptation of the first season, she said: "I think they did condense it very effectively ... I ended up getting most of the things that I felt strongly about in there. There were only a few instances where the most important stuff in my opinion didn't get in". In March 2015, she said of the scripts for season two: "The Parisian stuff is very good, and in fact I'm deeply impressed by the outlines I've seen ... I think they've done a wonderful job of pulling out the most important plot elements and arranging them in a convincing way". Gabaldon wrote the screenplay for the 2016 season two episode "Vengeance is Mine".
According to Moore, the writing and pre-production for season four began while season three was still in active production.
On July 9, 2013, it was announced that Sam Heughan had been cast as Jamie Fraser, the male lead. Tobias Menzies was the second actor cast on August 8, in dual roles as both Frank and Jonathan Randall, and on September 4 Graham McTavish and Gary Lewis were cast as the brothers MacKenzie. On September 11, it was announced that Irish actress Caitriona Balfe had been cast to play Claire Beauchamp Randall. The series later added Lotte Verbeek as Geillis Duncan and Laura Donnelly as Jamie's sister Jenny in October 2013.
In December 2013, Simon Callow was cast in the supporting role of Duke of Sandringham, and Bill Paterson was cast as lawyer Ned Gowan in June 2014. Entertainment Weekly reported in January 2015 that Steven Cree would portray Ian Murray. Author Gabaldon has a cameo as Iona MacTavish in the August 2014 episode "The Gathering". In August 2014 it was announced that Frazer Hines had been cast in the role of a prison warden in an episode to air in 2015. From 1966 to 1969, Hines had portrayed the Doctor Who character Jamie McCrimmon, who Gabaldon has said inspired the setting of the Outlander series and the character Jamie Fraser. Hines plays Sir Fletcher Gordon, an English prison warden, in the May 2015 episode "Wentworth Prison".
In June 2015, the series cast Andrew Gower as the Jacobite pretender Prince Charles Edward Stuart; Robert Cavanah as Jamie’s Scottish cousin Jared, a wine merchant and Jacobite living in Paris; Margaux Châtelier as Annalise de Marillac, Jamie's French ex-lover; and Laurence Dobiesz as Alex Randall, Black Jack's younger–and gentler–brother. Other cast added for season 2 include Romann Berrux as the French pickpocket Fergus, Rosie Day as the baronet's daughter Mary Hawkins, Stanley Weber as Le Comte St. Germain, Dominique Pinon as healer Master Raymond, Marc Duret as French Minister of Finance Joseph Duverney, Frances de la Tour as Mother Hildegarde, and Audrey Brisson as Sister Angelique. In July 2015, Lionel Lingelser was cast as King Louis XV of France. Moore revealed June 2015 that Verbeek would be returning in the role of Geillis. Richard Rankin was cast as Roger Wakefield in December 2015, while Sophie Skelton was chosen to portray Brianna Randall, Claire and Jamie's daughter, in January 2016.
In August 2016, Starz announced that David Berry had been cast as Lord John William Grey for season three. In September, Wil Johnson was cast as Joe Abernathy, and John Bell as "Young Ian" Fraser Murray. In October, César Domboy was cast as an adult Fergus, and Lauren Lyle as Laoghaire's daughter Marsali MacKimmie. Hannah James and Tanya Reynolds were cast as sisters Geneva and Isobel Dunsany in November 2016.
In July 2013, British Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne confirmed that the production would benefit from the Creative Sector Tax Relief program implemented in the UK in 2012, which extends film tax reliefs to high-end television productions. The Scottish government also agreed to help pay for the conversion of a warehouse complex on the outskirts of Cumbernauld in North Lanarkshire to a studio for filming. Principal photography began on location in Scotland in September 2013. The Cumbernauld studios were used for on set filming, with location shoots taking place at Doune Castle, Stirling; mills in East Linton, East Lothian; Newtonmore in the Scottish Highlands; Rothiemurchus Forest, Aviemore; quarries near Bathgate, West Lothian and Aberfoyle, Stirling. Other locations include Loch Rannoch in the Highlands and Falkland and Culross in Fife.
Filming for season two began in April 2015, to air in spring 2016. The primary setting for the season is Paris, which Moore explained is being recreated using other locations. Some interiors were filmed on the show's Scotland soundstages, while Prague was used for the exterior Parisian street scenes and the Palace of Versailles. In addition some palaces in the south of England which have French rooms and architecture were used as interiors of the Parisian settings and part of Versailles. Moore noted that season two of Outlander "will look completely different than season one" with a "richer, more dynamic kind of visual palette". With the change of setting from Scotland to France, he said that "visually you’ve moved from the heavy woods and stone of season 1 into the finery of the Parisian apartments". He explained:
Everything about Paris is so completely different, especially the costumes ... It’s the most stylish city in the world during this time. A lot more money. A lot of finery. Scotland is featuring a lot of heavy wools and more organic colors. In Paris everyone wants to be a peacock. You’ve got a much wider palette of textiles and colors and styles than you did in Scotland. It’s a completely different world. And that kind of goes across the board for all the departments ... There were really no sets or pieces of sets that we could use for Paris that we’d used for Scotland ... There are carriages, there are servants with livery, there are props and furniture. It’s completely different. It’s a whole new show.
Production on the third season began in September 2016 in Scotland, and filming took place in Cape Town from March to June 2017. Filming completed on June 16, 2017.
In August 2017, Moore said that for season four, locations in Scotland would double as 18th century America, and some of the mountains and rivers of North Carolina would be recreated using locations in Eastern Europe.
The music is composed by Bear McCreary. The title song is an adaptation of Robert Louis Stevenson's poem Sing me a Song of a Lad that is Gone, set to the tune of the Scottish folk song "The Skye Boat Song". For the first half of season two, the second verse of the opening theme is sung in French to reflect the season's French setting.
Outlander premiered in the U.S. on August 9, 2014. Its first eight episodes aired through September, and then the remaining eight episodes of season one resumed in April 2015. The season one finale episode aired on May 30, 2015.
Outlander debuted in Australia on SoHo on August 14, 2014, and began airing in Canada on Showcase on August 24, 2014. The series also premiered on October 21, 2014, in Ireland. In the United Kingdom, it was acquired by Amazon Prime Instant Video, where it premiered on March 26, 2015. In April 2015, The Herald reported that emails leaked in the Sony Pictures Entertainment hack suggested that the broadcast delay in the UK may have been due to sensitivity over the September 2014 Scottish independence referendum. In Canada, the show can be streamed on Netflix.
The second season of 13 episodes premiered on April 9, 2016, and the 13-episode third season is scheduled to premiere on September 10, 2017.
More said in August 2017 that he hopes for season four to premiere in Fall 2018.
The first season scored 73 out of 100 on Metacritic based on 34 reviews, which were "generally favorable", while the review aggregator website Rotten Tomatoes reports a 91% "certified fresh" critics rating with an average rating of 7.92/10 based on 49 reviews. The website consensus reads: "Outlander is a unique, satisfying adaptation of its source material, brought to life by lush scenery and potent chemistry between its leads".
The Huffington Post called the first episode "... A masterpiece of impressive depth ... It is amazing!" Entertainment Weekly gave the premiere an "A-" rating, writing that it was "sexy and smart and stirring". Matt Zoller Seitz of New York magazine also praised the series, calling it "defiantly its own thing: part romance-novel fantasy, part-time-travel story, and part wartime drama (set across two time periods)". Sonia Saraiya of The A.V. Club gave the first six episodes an A, writing that it "does for 1743 Scotland what Downton Abbey does for 1912 England", and adding that "Outlander succeeds admirably ... it refuses to sit comfortably in any genre."
British reception was more mixed. In the first UK review, Siobhan Synnot of The Scotsman said "There has not been such a proud display of tartanalia since the opening of the 2014 Commonwealth Games". Alastair McKay of The Evening Standard quoted Saraiya's comparison with Downton Abbey, adding "[The comparison] is entirely correct. It is magical-mystical heuchter-teuchter cobblers." Euan Ferguson of The Observer called it "gorgeous drivel" and Thomas Batten of The Guardian stated "If you love the scenery, shifting allegiances, and palace intrigue of [Game of Thrones] but find yourself wishing the pace were a little slower and that the sex scenes were filmed in a more pretentious manner with lots of slow pans and softer lighting, here’s your show." Graeme Virtue noted "the rather languid pace of the opening episodes" but praised the show's "rare acknowledgment of the female gaze" in its treatment of sex scenes. The Daily Telegraph also made the Game of Thrones comparison, while The Independent stated "...yes, it's a time-travelling, wish-fulfilment fantasy but it's done with such flair and attention to detail that it's impossible not to hop on board for the ride."
The second season received positive reviews from critics. On Metacritic, the season has a score of 85 out of 100 based on 11 reviews, indicating "universal acclaim". On Rotten Tomatoes, it reports a 97% "certified fresh" rating with an average rating of 8.28/10 based on 20 reviews. The website consensus reads: "Outlander returns for a second addictive season of mystery and sweeping romance as Claire and Jamie take on Paris." Based on five episodes for review, Marah Eakin of The A.V. Club gave it a perfect "A" grade and wrote, "It's not just well-written and lovely to look at. It's downright immersive. ... Outlander feels important–even moreso in its second season."
The third season has received positive reviews from critics. On Metacritic, the season has a score of 87 out of 100 based on 6 reviews, indicating "universal acclaim". Based on six episodes for review, Liz Shannon Miller of IndieWire gave it an "A"-grade review and wrote, "This is a show that's grown and matured since its initial premiere in ways that defied our initial expectations."
The first eight episodes averaged more than 5.1 million multiplatform viewers per episode. In July 2015, noting Outlander's strong ratings, its "vocal online fandom and a slew of think pieces tied to its feminist twists on the action genre", Josef Adalian of Vulture.com credited Outlander as one of the series responsible for Starz's increased success against competitors like Showtime.