This article was originally published in The Dundee Courier on 18th November 2017.
LOVE, LIES AND RECORDS: Thursday, BBC One
HOWARDS’ END: Sunday, BBC One
A Register Office is such an obvious setting for a TV show, it’s surprising that LOVE, LIES AND RECORDS is the first of its kind.
Written by that grand maven of humane ensemble dramas Kay Mellor (Fat Friends; The Syndicate; In the Club), it seizes upon the narrative potential of a world in which a fresh batch of supporting characters, each with various births, marriages and deaths to deal with, can be introduced every week.
It boasts a typically natural, likeable performance from Ashley Jensen as kindly Kate, a senior registrar at Leeds City Hall. When she’s promoted to Superintendent, a disgruntled colleague (Rebecca Front on bitterly tight-lipped form) threatens to blackmail her by exposing CCTV footage of Kate and a male colleague indulging in a drunken tryst at the office Christmas party.
If this secret is revealed, it will destroy Kate’s career and her relationship with her partner.
Her guilt was compounded when she witnessed the bond between a young married couple with a newly born baby. The bride had terminal cancer, and died just hours after the wedding, thus forcing Kate to confront the brevity of existence.
Meanwhile, she grew suspicious when a nervous young Slovenian woman arrived at the office to register her marriage to an Iranian man. Kate wrestled with her liberal conscience: was she wrong to suspect that this arrangement wasn’t all that it seemed?
What’s more, a male friend and colleague, who’s married with children, announced that he would henceforth be dressing as a woman. Mellor being Mellor, this was all handled with the utmost sensitivity.
She has a gift for devising empathetic, troubled characters while smoothly weaving multiple story strands into a satisfying thematic whole. The humour in her work is never forced, she has an ear for the way people actually speak. Combine that trait with Jensen, an actor who always sounds like an actual human being, and you’ve got the ingredients for yet another engaging character drama from the venerable house of Mellor.
E.M Forster’s HOWARDS’ END is reputedly one of the greatest novels of the 20th Century. Having never read it, I’m in no position to debate its reputation. However, I have seen the garlanded Merchant Ivory film version and episode one of the BBC’s new vaporous adaptation, both of which bored me rigid.
A tiresome tale of two wealthy families, it strikes me as nothing more than a group of introspective bohemian intellectuals mithering on about love, art and what it means to be human. Yes, I know that could also serve as a description of practically every Woody Allen film ever made, but at least his characters tend to be interesting.
I just can’t engage at all with this wooden shower of pampered dullards. Writer Kenneth Lornegan (author of the overrated Manchester By The Sea) fails to establish any reason for caring about them. Granted, the actors manage to avoid the staid pitfalls of so many English period dramas by delivering their dialogue in a semi-naturalistic, overlapping style. But that’s a minor technical detail, and no substitute for compelling characterisation and narrative.
Its themes are still relevant, so it should theoretically work. Our protagonist is an independent young woman struggling to achieve respect within a rigid, sexist patriarchy. Societal hypocrisy and the hardship of transcending class barriers are also on the table. But Howards’ End examines these issues in a fatally dreary, distancing way.
Bring back Howards’ Way, I’d rather watch that instead.