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TV review: Marriage

19 August 2022


Nicola Walker and Sean Bean star as Ian and Emma, a married couple in Marriage (BBC1, Sunday)

Nicola Walker and Sean Bean star as Ian and Emma, a married couple in Marriage (BBC1, Sunday)

AS A fan of the TV series Mum, by the same writer, I had sky-high hopes for Stefan Golaszewski’s new drama Marriage (BBC1, Sunday). The four-part series is billed as a highlight of the post-Commonwealth Games dog days of summer schedules. And the opening was promising, with Marriage’s unconventional theme tune, Caroline Shaw’s a cappella “Partita for 8 Voices” cutting into an airport café debate on the limits of spousal responsibility for requesting off-menu dishes.

Nicola Walker and Sean Bean as the 27-years-married couple Ian and Emma are superb. Their deep interior lives bubble beneath their respective amiable and flinty personalities. Golaszewski’s ability to recreate intricate suburban on-screen interiors continues to build on the domestic vernacular established in Mum, in which drawers burst open with carrier bags, and piles of ironing lie hid around every corner.

Filmed on a Bellway estate in Hemel Hempstead, Ian and Emma’s house is pinched at the front, the hall door almost touching the stairs, and an empty drying rack attached to the radiator. No doubt this is for the couple’s worn pants, which each teases the other about — although Emma’s teasing is an expletive-laden reflection that the holes make her want to puke her guts out. Emma is the sweariest character on British TV drama.

She is also the most cost-conscious, outraged at being charged for ketchup sachets. Emma’s abrasiveness and penny-pinching is an understandable reaction to her husband’s recent redundancy and their new reality as a single-income household.

On first meeting, Ian is a gentler personality than his wife, avoiding facing up to the loss of his mother and his job by meandering through displacement activities, such as half-hearted trips to the gym.

Marriage’s forensic focus on the mundane is far from trivial. A visit to a taciturn James Bolam as Emma’s father, Gerry, examines in few words the challenges of elder care for Generation X women, as Emma is accused of deserting her father by going on holiday. The visit to Gerry highlights a further theme in Marriage: avoidance and lurking. Gerry’s companion Paul spies on them through the crack in the hall door when they leave. A gym receptionist takes refuge in the office rather than face Ian’s faux cheery chat. And Emma processes her boss’s slightly too personal welcome back by lingering in the office kitchen.

We know from episode one’s final scene, in which Emma wishes to smash in her daughter’s boyfriend’s face, that issues are emerging that will brook no hiding.

Marriage is a slow burn. The creator and director Golaszewski has created an immersive drama of ordinary life, without the economic precariousness characteristic of kitchen-sink dramas: “I want to celebrate the human experience for the messy, tricky, glorious thing it is.” A heart-warming, if pragmatic, affirmation of a sacred institution.

Gillean Craig is away.

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