Marriage is the new BBC drama starring Sean Bean and Nicola Walker, playing Ian and Emma, a couple who have been married for many years. Ian has recently been made redundant, and is struggling for direction in his life. Emma is doing quite well at a firm of solicitors. She seems to have a complicated relationship with her boss, who is an odd combination of superficial macho postering, and deep emotional issues. Meanwhile, representing the younger generation, we have Ian and Emma’s adopted daughter Jessica, who is trying to make her way as a singer songwriter, whilst navigating the highs and lows of young love.
The tone is surprising for a mainstream TV drama. It’s like having a Harold Pinter play in the Bodyguard slot. Events, seemingly unremarkable in their outward appearance, hide great turbulence beneath. This produces uncomfortable drama characterised by fascinating contrasts. There’s the consideration of love for example and how it changes over the years. Superficially it looks like the youngsters get all the fun – all the passion and depth of feeling. There is an instant attraction between Jessica and Mark, a young man she meets in a restaurant. Experiencing the rush of love at first sight, they sit and talk for hours. At one point they discuss their parents’ relationships, which they see as having become dull and stale. Jessica has written songs about the intense feelings of young love, songs which have given rise to knowing chuckles from Ian and Emma after watching one of their daughter’s gigs.
But here’s the thing. For couples who remain together for many years, a long-term partner can become as vital and integral to an individual’s wellbeing as their leg, arm, hand, or if we are to use the usual language of romance, heart. Maybe you might not write love songs to your arm, but if you were to lose that arm, no love song would really be able to describe the resulting loss. Ian is terrified of losing Emma, in the sense that he is terrified of losing something so important to him that it has become part of himself.
And yet there is another contrast offered by Marriage. Jessica may love Mark, but for eight months she has been involved with a creepy and controlling young man called Adam. After a loved up day of talk, Jessica does not take Mark’s number because, she admits, Adam checks her phone.
“He shouldn’t do that,” says Mark, and of course he is right. Love does not come by controlling another person. They are not your arm to do your bidding in picking something up. Everything that keeps people at a measure of healthy distance from each other is part of what allows them to be happy together. Silly arguments, and anxieties about losing the other person become oddly part of being together. Ian can have a nervous breakdown over Emma going to a conference overnight with her boss, but after the crisis, they are happy in the garden again, Emma working at her laptop, Ian putting wood stain on the garden furniture.
Stefan Golaszewski has written a fascinating piece of drama, the acting matching the subtlety of the writing. I hope Marriage gets the recognition it deserves.