‘Love and Marriage’ Episode 1 Review

A busy and humourless episode gives Love and Marriage a rough start!

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ITV’s new family drama Love and Marriage follows family woman, Pauline Paradise (Alison Steadman) as she decides to take drastic action and walk away from her marriage and mothering duties, impacting on all members of her large brood.

Pauline is essentially unappreciated. We kick off with Pauline getting ready for what is to be her last day of work. She prepares a fry up for both her husband Ken (Duncan Preston) and father (David Ryall), before waiting hopefully for a helping hand or a ‘good luck’ wish, yet receives neither and is forced to leave without a goodbye, slamming the door behind her.

The programme then cuts, strangely, to documentary style scenes as we are introduced to the wider cast. Facing the camera head on and responding to questions posed just outside of the shot, we are introduced to Pauline’s eldest son, Kevin (Stewart Wright) and his wife Sarah (Ashley Jensen) as they are asked what the secrets are to a perfect marriage. While Sarah emphasizes the importance of trust and honestly her husband directly contrasts these sentiments with his actions in the next scene. Kev has pinned all hopes of funding his son’s French rugby tour on winning the local pub quiz due to hidden money worries. Simultaneously Kevin receives a mysterious letter from the fire department, which he promptly hides in his coat pocket, away from his wife.

The middle child, Martin (Graeme Hawley) and his wife Michelle (Zoe Telford) then take centre stage, or rather; they share the screen with their brood of five children. Martin promptly causes disaster by reporting to Kevin that he cannot attend the quiz.

Meanwhile, Pauline attends a presentation for her retirement whereby she is gifted with a teacup, a pair of secateurs and a hammock, ‘because when grandmas, like Mrs Paradise retire…not only do they love spending time with their lovely husbands, but, as I’m sure you’ve all observed, they suddenly become obsessed with gardening.’ As an anecdote to the rather lame presents Pauline is given a book by teacher and colleague, Mr Bachman. Yet, there is no time to enjoy the presents or even retirement, as Pauline is straight off to do the food shopping for her newest grandchild’s christening. A quick phone call from daughter Heather (Niky Wardley) and Pauline is given yet more work and food requests, really hitting home how rushed off her feet this woman is.

Another family member, this time it’s Pauline’s sister Rowan who comes in the form of Celia Imrie. Providing a rather stark contrast to Pauline, Rowan has spent the morning in bed with her flash married boyfriend. She is easy-going, relaxed and fun, ‘spending her life in endless pursuit of herself.’ Cue documentary style footage of Tommy and Rowan, as they discuss Pauline’s marriage, describing the entire relationship as a ‘disaster zone.’

Returning home from the supermarket, Pauline finds her dad, donned in suit and tie lying on the living room floor, playing his wedding music and clutching a picture of his wife as he waits for death. He figured it would be a nice way to go. Pauline lies down next to him, clutching her new book. ‘I never regretted marrying her Pauline,’ he says, obviously fueling the questioning fire building within Pauline.

On cue, Pauline asks her husband to look after her dad so that she can go to the quiz and relax however this request is not well received by her husband, who, in not so many words, refuses. Pauline is forced back into the kitchen and so finishes preparing the Christening quiches and sandwiches.

Cut to the pub quiz. Scenes of boozing, team banter and competition are intercut with images of Kevin having a word with his son’s school teacher who reminds him that the cheque for his son’s rugby tour has bounced. To deal with the situation, Kev does the obvious and rather than telling his wife or asking for help, he steals money from the safe in the pub.

The next day, at the Christening party, whilst Kevin makes a speech about the importance of family, Granddad attempts to make use of the hammock, which had been set up in the garden, yet slides off and falls to his death. It’s all rather fast and strange. Later that night, Pauline lies in bed with her husband, wanting nothing more than to talk about her father’s death but she is once again refused communication. Removing herself from the bedroom, Pauline goes and sits in the kitchen, and in the early hours of the morning, opens her copy of the Dylan Thomas poems she received from Mr Bachman. She turns to the instructed page and reads: “Do not go gentle into that good night.” This line of poetry and Bachman’s interpretation effectively pours gasoline on the fire within Pauline, pushing her over the edge, helping her decide to leave her marriage and lifestyle.

I thought that the first episode of Love and Marriage was a bit busy. Apparently the following episodes will focus on a single family per installment, which I think will be much more effective. This episode was packed to bursting, although this does mean that there is a lot to build on. The most believable character was by far Pauline, while the rest of the cast were so piled on with sub-plots and more minor story lines and emotions, there was never really enough time for their characters or their individual stories to develop.

As far as this being listed as a ‘comedy-drama’ I would have to disagree. So far, there has been little evidence of comedy. The one emphasised joke of the episode (Kevin mistaking the film ‘the constant gardener’ for the ‘incontinent gardener’) was rather heavy-handed and was then repeated later on in the episode, which if anything just re-emphasised it’s clumsiness. However, in terms of drama the first episode packed a punch. With a Christening, funeral, marriage breakdown, fertility problems, and money worries, Love and Marriage certainly jammed it all in, and will presumably have viewers tuning in next week, but for me, it was just a bit too jam-packed.