CONTRAST AND COMPARE

by evseymour

I’m jealous of Sally Wainwright. There. You have it in print. Not of the person, you understand, but her extraordinary creative talent.

Like many, I’ve been looking forward to the return of ‘Last Tango in Halifax’, an absorbing and often hilarious family drama when two septuagenarians meet for a second time and fall in love. Their grown-up children’s less than ecstatic initial response is a neat reversal of parents disapproving of their children’s boyfriends/girlfriends/partners. Wainwright’s strength lies in her characterisation, which is, frankly, superb. She really gets people, how they behave and especially how they react when caught in a trap.

In the first series, the emphasis was on the comic, the second on the tragic. What a dark turn of events in episodes one and two of the new series. In a less experienced writer’s hands, this could have been (no pun intended) the kiss of death, taking the narrative down a strange path, but Wainwright’s utterly human characters save the day. It would have been so easy, for example, to have John, Caroline’s ex-husband, sign up hook, line and sinker for baby-minding duties. At a stroke, one plot problem would have been overcome, but John is a flaky individual who doesn’t have ‘commitment’ in his vocabulary even if he does spout Rudyard Kipling. So, true to himself, he squiggles out and leaves Caroline with a monumental problem. In the same vein, Gary, played by Rupert Graves, is grappling with the fact that he is Alan’s illegitimate son. His confusion and slightly disturbed response strikes an authentic note. No trite OMG reaction and then on with the show.

Now, in contrast, what the heck is going on in ‘Broadchurch’? It’s suddenly moved from thumping good detective-led drama to courtroom drama. Don’t get me wrong, the cast are acting their socks off, and I love the addition of flinty Charlotte Rampling as a barrister for the prosecution, but the odds really do seem impossibly stacked against poor old Olivia Colman as the unfortunate wife of the murder suspect. Would David Tennant in his role as lead detective honestly put someone into ‘unofficial’ witness protection? Is there such a thing? This week, he backtracked, but I thought the whole idea flaky from the start. And the credibility of court proceedings? No doubt, some of my legal mates who are also writers might be able to throw light on the veracity or otherwise on the course of the trial. I understand that barristers can be merciless in fighting their corners, but it all seems overblown even if the writer’s aim is to extract the maximum amount of dramatic tension.

Hmmm. Jury’s out.

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