Saturday, October 15, 2016

Sharon Horgan's Divorce: Sex Goes Upstate, or Husbands and Wives Sideways

When Sharon Horgan was interviewed on Radio 4’s Today programme, she was asked whether it was possible to make divorce funny. Horgan’s reply, like her writing, was a masterpiece of vague certainty and unbending doubt. She cited a remark made by Gwyneth Paltrow - the actress who coined the phrase “conscious uncoupling” to describe her own emotional trainwreck. Paltrow reportedly asked her father Bruce how he managed to stay married for 33 years, and he replied. “Well, we never wanted to get divorced at the same time.” 
SJP and THC: Lacking in TLC
Horgan’s Divorce (Sky On Demand/Now TV) is funny, but the humour is tempered by an undertow of sadness and an emotional complexity. Also, it stars Sarah Jessica Parker, an actor whose reputation rests on her turn as the sexy, insecure singleton in Sex and the City; the show which turned feminism into a gay fantasy of shagging shoe-fetishists, while falling back always on the comforting notion that everything could be fixed with a cuddle from Mr Big. Chris Noth, aka Mr Big, subsequently became the semi-corrupt ham that Julianna Margulies had to stand by in The Good Wife, so Parker’s progress is overdue, but there are signs that she knows what she’s is escaping from. Her character, Frances, isn’t Carrie, though there is a joke about her laptop being thrown through a window. Meanwhile, upstate, she’s older and sadder, and marooned in parenthood, still bewildered, and incapable of holding onto a thought for more than 10 minutes. That’s where the tragicomedy lies. The fact that Parker’s character is married to, and in the business of uncoupling from, Thomas Haden Church (the dude from Sideways) is equally appropriate, because Church - as Robert - now represents dull dependability and flattened fury, where once he was a charmingly straightforward fool. 
Is it really funny? It is, though the bittersweet notes are dialled up. “I want to save my life,” says Frances, “while I still care about it.” So, yes, everyone is self-involved, and blind to their own failings, hankering for romance in the snowdrifts of midlife. For Frances, this includes a miscalculation about a long-term affair in which she says “I love you, I think”, and he orders an 18 inch thin-crust Hawaiian. Is it possible to laugh about divorce? It is, and it’s also the only sane way to approach it. For Horgan, it represents a more mature approach to comedy, though the script is still speckled with explosive indiscretions. Watch out for the tongue darts. 
The first series of The Missing (BBC iPlayer) started with a fictional parallel to the disappearance of Madeleine McCann and developed into a fraught drama about parental fear. Dramatically, it went awry, though it was a good vehicle for James Nesbitt as the dad who Took Things Too Far. Happily, the reboot sees the retired French detective Julien Baptiste (Tcheky Karyo) returning, eased out a retirement in which he smashes up his beehives while shouting “I cannot bring us honey, I can at least bring us firewood.” This time, he’s investigating a decade-old double disappearance, which includes the return from the dead of a girl who claims to have been kept in a dungeon. 
It’s not a simple case, and it’s made no easier by the fact that the action flits between time periods and locations. Happily Baptiste shaves his head as he goes gallivanting in Iraq. (‘You’re looking at a dying man,” he says, which may explain his obsessive risk taking). Keeley Hawes and David Morrissey are the distraught parents. Hawes has a mother’s steely determination. Morrissey has plastic surgery and a shifty look. 

Serial Box 
Well, National Treasure (All 4) ended as it had to, with a verdict in the case against the despicable comedian Paul Finchley (Robbie Coltrane). No spoilers, but he was obviously guilty of being a duplicitous rat, though those were not the charges on which he was facing trial. There was fine writing in Jack Thorne’s Yewtree drama, particularly the speech from Paul’s long-suffering wife Marie (Julie Walters) about the three layers of Finchley’s character (“there’s this third layer, and on that, you’re capable of anything”). The acting was terrific, with Coltrane’s slow-dissolve encouraged by Walters’ acidic gaze, and the cinematic direction was notable, with cameras peering unwanted though doors. The scene of Coltrane observing himself in a mirror through bloodshot eyes while shaving was extraordinary. 
Publishedin the London Evening Standard on 14 October, 2016

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