Love and Marriage: Alison Steadman and Duncan Preston shine in this over-complicated comedy drama
Whenever a TV show or film is described as a comedy drama it often means that it is neither funny nor particularly dramatic. The latest programme to be put in this genre is ITV’s Love and Marriage, which focuses on the extended Coventry-based Paradise family and the struggles of its matriarch – Pauline. However, I didn’t find much comedy in this drama, though there were some incredibly silly scenes I didn’t find them particularly funny.
The programme begins with Pauline preparing for her last day at work as a lollipop-lady. While Pauline is nervous about this milestone in her life, her husband Ken doesn’t seem awfully bothered. As she prepares to leave, the school present her with gifts namely a pair of secateurs and a hammock so she can drift off into retirement. But it seems that Pauline won’t have time to relax as she has to prepare the food for the christening of her newest grandchild. As she approaches the supermarket it seems that none of her children are willing to help with the preparations at all. Meanwhile, Pauline’s sister Rowan is equally as useless as she fails to sort out the delivery of alcohol, instead deciding to spend time in bed with her married lover Tommy.
As we meet the rest of Pauline’s brood it appears as if she isn’t the only one with issues. Pauline’s elder son Kevin is struggling financially but has yet to tell his wife Sarah about his impending redundancy. As Kevin’s debts pile up, he attempts to borrow money from his mother and also contemplates stealing from the donations made to his local rugby club. Meanwhile, Pauline’s daughter Heather is struggling to have a baby with her much younger husband Charlie. It appears as if Heather is obsessed with checking whether or not she’s ovulating and is also paranoid that Charlie is having an affair with one of his co-workers. Of the three Paradise children, it seems that younger son Martin has the least to worry about with his troubles being that he and his wife have a lot of kids. Rowan’s granddaughter Scarlett , who lives with her, also has her own issues as she feels she never got to know her mother. From what we are able to gather in this episode, Scarlett’s mother Emma ran away and the family now presume she’s dead.
Throughout the episode we get the impression that Pauline’s family really doesn’t appreciate what she does for them. For example, when they return from an unsuccessful outing at the rugby club quiz night they start to eat the quiches she has lovingly prepared for the impending christening. After enjoying a happy day at the christening, tragedy strikes when Rowan and Pauline’s elderly father Frank dies after falling out of Pauline’s retirement hammock. After losing her father, Pauline turns to Ken for comfort only to find that he isn’t bothered about anything that goes on in her life. After Frank’s funeral is over, Pauline announces that she is leaving Ken and that she won’t be there to mother her grown-up children any more. As the episode comes to an end, Pauline moves into Rowan’s house and appears to be starting a new chapter in her life.
I think my issues with Love and Marriage started almost instantly as writer Stewart Harcourt introduced the various members of the Paradise family by having the couples introduce themselves straight to camera. Helpful captions introduced us to the characters and also how they were related to each other. I personally found this to be a slightly lazy storytelling device as we were given heaps of expositional dialogue. I would’ve preferred to have learnt about the characters gradually rather than via the means of these to-camera interviews. Another problem I had is that I felt there were just far too many stories and characters. I believe that including ten lead characters in one 45 minute ‘comedy drama’ is overdoing and as a result some characters hardly have anything to do. This is most true of Martin, the youngest of the three Paradise children, who has very little to do other than occasionally be attacked by his growing brood of young kids. The majority of the stories feel very clichéd and I feel like I’ve seen most of them done better elsewhere. The husband hiding financial problems from his wife, the woman struggling to give birth and the daughter desperate to find her missing mother all feel like plots that have been lifted from a soap opera.
Love and Marriage isn’t all bad and I really did feel like there was a good programme in there somewhere. I believe that Harcourt really wanted to write the story of a woman who was sick of being defined as a wife and mother and wanted to start her life over. The scenes focusing on Pauline’s marriage to Ken or her relationship with her sister were the episodes best and were definitely the most emotional. I loved the scenes in which Pauline read Dylan Thomas’ ‘Do No Go Gentle Into the Good Night’, a poem from a book given to her as a retirement gift from one of the teachers. I think that Harcourt perfectly demonstrated Pauline’s increasing frustration with her family and how under-appreciated she felt. But I felt that Pauline’s story did get lost among all of the other plots and I would’ve been happier just focusing on the older characters.
One of Love and Marriage’s saving graces was Alison Steadman who was utterly brilliant at conveying Pauline’s inner-sadness. Steadman didn’t need dialogue to get across the way in which she was feeling, instead letting her expressions tell the story. Duncan Preston was also great here as ‘Silent Ken’ a man who seemingly has never expressed an emotion in his entire life. From Preston’s performance you could tell that Ken was a man who’d let life pass him by and had never truly appreciated everything Pauline had done for him. Though Celia Imrie was portraying a character we’d seen her play before, I felt that she and Steadman shared excellent chemistry and were believable as sisters. Imrie had similar chemistry with Larry Lamb, who played her lover Tommy, as the pair’s relationship was presented as the polar opposite to that of Pauline and Ken. I personally felt the younger members of the cast were fighting a losing battle as a lot of their characters weren’t particularly likeable. Despite charismatic actors such as Ashley Jensen and Graeme Hawley amongst their number, I generally felt as if I could’ve done without the second generation of the Paradise family. It appeared as if a lot of the characters were also struggling with the Coventry accent, with some employing broad Brummie accents and others not even trying at all.
Overall, Love and Marriage was a programme of two halves. On the one hand you had the compelling story of a sixty year old woman who was evaluating her lot in life and had come to the conclusion that she was sick of being a wife and mother. But on the other hand you had the clichéd problems of the Paradise children which I was never once interested in and could’ve easily done without. It almost seems as if ITV felt as if audiences wouldn’t have watched a programme that concentrated on characters in their sixties, and almost forced Harcourt to include the stories about the younger members of the Paradise family. If this is true, then it’s a shame as I would’ve much preferred Love and Marriage to simply be a programme about Pauline and her new life. But instead I found Love and Marriage to be an over-complicated programme filled with too many characters and storylines. Also, for a programme billed as a ‘comedy drama’ it never once made me laugh.
What did you think to Love and Marriage? Did you enjoy it more than I did? Leave Your Comments Below.
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