Marriage, review: Sean Bean and Nicola Walker will shake you out of complacency

·2 min read
Sean Bean and Nicola Walker in Marriage - BBC
Sean Bean and Nicola Walker in Marriage - BBC

It’s a backhanded way to measure success in a drama, but for the first three hours of Marriage (BBC One/iPlayer) I just wanted every other scene to end. It wasn’t so much those hypnotically dull ones where in comfortable silence Emma and Ian (Nicola Walker and Sean Bean) filled the dishwasher or brushed their teeth. It was more when they tried to talk, to each other or anyone else, that you itched for it to stop. The excruciating banalities, the awkward misfires – they were just so confrontingly true to life.

Stefan Golaszewski’s portrait of a marriage won’t be for everyone. Gruellingly honest about the realities of long cohabitation, with its micro-niggles and unaddressed sorrows, the script’s rhythms shook its audience out of its complacency, aided by a jolting theme tune (Caroline Shaw’s a cappella Partita for 8 Voices).

Golaszewski, who also directed, won hearts and minds with the sublime Mum, a lo-fi comedy from the school of Mike Leigh about a nice kind widow encircled by grotesques. We were back much in the same environment but with no jokes to speak of. Those first three episodes contained more pain than joy as grief and jealousy clustered like black clouds over two good but fearful people.

While Emma and Ian kept buggering on – she saddled with a jumped-up alpha for a boss (Henry Lloyd Hughes), he with the petrifying new void of unemployment – the viewer was asked to join dots, to deepen their investment by doing some of the work.

In what passed for a plot, the lovely finale brought balm as Emma and Ian found a way to connect and chortle with their daughter Jessica (Chantelle Alle). Meanwhile, comeuppances were issued and bullies, whose cruelties no doubt had deep-seated causes, were denied the chance to spread more misery. That look on James Bolam’s face, as Emma’s unloving father Gerry suddenly saw he’d been getting things wrong for years, was a picture.

Bean and Walker were, as you’d expect, wonderful. Perhaps the real Ians and Emmas watching Marriage while curled up on the sofa will take courage from this redemptive hymn to quiet decency. Emma, you sense, always had it in her to assert herself. The more seismic shock was Ian, a big hollow pudding of a man with the saddest of smiles, who smashed up a gaudy Audi. Far more revitalising than the body wash he sought in the supermarket (though don’t try it at home).