When a film or TV series claims to be mainly improvised I often find myself trying to guess the moments when the actors are creating their own dialogue rather than reading from a script and this was something I found myself doing a lot while watching True Love. The BBC drama features five stories all set in and around the seaside town of Margate which, as the title would suggest, are all about true love which in some cases has already been found but in others are tested such as in episode one.
The episode stars David Tennant as Nick who is presented to us as a happily married man and as we first meet him he is celebrating the 34th birthday of his wife Ruth, played by Joanne Froggat, with an assembled group of friends in addition to the couple’s two teenage children. These children are the ones that only seem to exist in programmes like this, as they are constantly smiling, do homework straight away and set the table without being asked multiple times. The couple also have quite a lovely furnished house with nothing out of place and a very tacky pastel portrait of the kids hanging up in the living room as Ruth and Nick cuddle together on the sofa. Essentially what we are being told is that this couple are content, in fact maybe too content, and so they don’t know what to do when something happens to question their love for each other.
That something is in fact Nick’s first love Serena, played by This is England’s Vicky McClure, who turns up in Margate supposedly to visit her sister but in reality she is trying to track her first lover down. It seems that Serena is going through a turning point in her life having just ended a relationship with the father of her daughter both of whom she’s left behind in Canada. Though Nick is happily married man, as well as having a steady yet mundane job doing something in an office, he is obviously tempted by Serena if only by the memory of what they once had. However nights working late coupled with obvious lies means that Ruth becomes suspicious of her husband’s motives especially when she bumps into Serena on her first day in town. The question becomes will Nick stray with Serena or is their relationship now simply based on feelings they once had for each other? Well you’ll have to watch to find out more.
What I can tell you is for the most part True Love does feel organic as Tennant is able to bring his full range of emotions to the role of Nick, somebody who thought he was completely satisfied until he spotted his true love again. Both of Tennant’s leading ladies bounce off him perfectly especially McClure who I think is used to this sort of thing as the This is England series always seems to employ some sort of improvisation. Though at the start I struggled to believe them as a couple as the episode went on their chemistry increased to the point where I could believe that they spent a dirty fortnight in her nan’s caravan back when they were young. The one scene where I really felt the improvised spirit of True Love was where Serena and Ruth bumped into one another as neither actress really seemed to be in control it all seemed a bit muddled I suppose on one hand you could say that they were going for realism but for me personally it didn’t flow as well as the rest of the episode.
My main problem was that because it was mostly improvised it seems that either writer/director Dominic Savage, or more likely the producers, didn’t trust the actors to get across the message of the story fully so had to use music in order to convey the emotions of the characters. I think I heard Roberta Flack’s ‘The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face’ more in the span of the episode’s thirty minutes than I have done in my entire life as the song was used to hammer home the point that when Nick looks at Serena he sees his first love. Similarly when it leads up to the point where he and Serena are planning an illicit liaison Billie Holliday’s I’m a Fool to Want You plays once again informing the audience that Nick is a bit of an idiot. I just felt this was a little bit too much and it was almost as if they were plugging a soundtrack CD to the series available in all good outlets from next week. I also felt there were far too many scenes of characters gazing across the sea because in real life people just don’t have time to do this on a regular basis.
On the whole I did enjoy the first episode of True Love mainly due to Tennant, McClure and Froggat all of whom are great character actors and got into the spirit of the improvisational nature of the show, which for the most part felt organic. The only thing that got on my nerves was the overuse of obvious music, which if it carries on throughout the week will get increasingly annoying, as well as the gazing out to sea that seemed to keep happening. I also personally would’ve preferred the episode to be at least fifteen minutes longer as I felt the end was slightly rushed considering Nick was meant to be making the biggest decision of his life.
So now Nick’s story is over and a second episode will begin tomorrow but thanks to the inter-connecting nature of True Love we’ve already met one of the players in Serena’s sister Michelle played by Lacey Turner. Michelle mentioned finding love in her one scene in this episode but we’ll have to see how well that’s panned out for her in episode two and more importantly how well will she and the rest of the cast be able to fare with the improvised nature of True Love.
Episode four will feature Tennant’s old Doctor Who star Billie Piper, who will play a teacher in the middle of a lesbian affair with one of her students. You can read more about that episode here.
Did you enjoy True Love? What did you think to the improvisational skills of the cast? Leave your comments below.