fri 17/08/2018

The Split, BBC One, review - Abi Morgan’s densely packed divorce drama | reviews, news & interviews

The Split, BBC One, review - Abi Morgan’s densely packed divorce drama

The Split, BBC One, review - Abi Morgan’s densely packed divorce drama

Nicola Walker is the real deal in a hectic family law saga

Commanding: Nicola Walker in 'The Split'BBC/Sister Pictures/Sophie Mutevelian

A few years ago Abi Morgan was everywhere. For the cinema she scripted Shame, The Iron Lady, The Invisible Woman and Suffragette. On television she adapted Birdsong and created The Hour and, most recently, River. But she’s mainly been quiet for a couple of years. Her silence is broken, loudly, by The Split (BBC One).

The setting is a pair of London law firms specialising in divorce. Defoe’s, presumably named in honour of the much married Moll Flanders, is a boutique family outfit occupying a stuffy old-school set of chambers controlled ruthlessly by Ruth (Deborah Findlay, pictured below). Her protégées include not one but two of her own daughters. Or they did until the older of them, Hannah (Nicola Walker), ran off like a faithless wife to hook up with Noble & Hale, a rival outfit sleekly domiciled in a glass ‘n’ steel highrise where they are keener on court than conciliation because it pays better. There, in an ironic symbol of her divorce from her mother, she adopts her marital surname. Stern by name, she is hard but fair by nature. “I don’t do circus. Never have,” she says. “Hate clowns.”

Thus it is that Hannah in her new situation finds herself in a child access negotiation in which the solicitor facing her across the table is none but her younger sister Nina (Annabel Scholey), still at Defoe’s. This probably happens all the time. It certainly happens in The Split. Nina takes the opportunity while in Hannah’s office to perform some light industrial espionage. By lunchtime Hannah’s new rich-as-Croesus client has been poached by Ruth, who for dramatic convenience happens to be lunching that very day in the same posh restaurant.Deborah Findlay in The SplitIt’s obviously a favourite family eaterie because, stone the crows, Hannah's husband Nathan (Stephen Mangan) also walks by in order to perform cheerful surveillance on his wife. Cheerful, but needful. She’s sitting next to her hot new colleague who, despite being called Christy Carmichael, is thoroughly Dutch and, many years previously, had his way with Hannah on the eve of her wedding. He seems lazily intent on reheating this liaison while keeping his options open with the sister Nina, who advertises her availability in her dress sense and, despite or perhaps because of her job in the matrimonial division, prefers dating married men.

Meanwhile it’s Ruth’s 70th birthday, necessitating a gathering of the clan for all apart from Oscar (Anthony Head), the estranged husband and father who walked out 30 years ago and has selected the top of episode one as the moment to walk right back in. The youngest sister, Rose (Fiona Button), is the least affected by her father’s abandonment and is about to enter hopefully into a marriage with James (Rudi Dharmalingam), who if not gay is certainly Christian, which may yet be grounds for divorce.

Like two parties in a toxic marriage, The Split is not on speaking terms with the more boring bits of reality. You could play a parlour game called That Wouldn’t Probably Happen. Such as Hannah having a clothes cupboard in which she couldn’t reach the hanger rail. Hannah leaving her dress undone, offering the stubbly Lowlands lothario the chance for some intimate rooftop zip-uppery. A husband (Stephen Tompkinson) dragging his wife (Meera Syal) into a law firm and only then announcing his intention to divorce her. Oscar telling Hannah she looks just like her mother (Nicola Walker seriously doesn’t look anything like Deborah Findlay). Meera Syal in The SplitThe Split is a fantasy in a deeper way: in this parallel world, the white Anglo-Saxon patriarchy has been deposed. Defoe’s is a sorority, while Noble & Hale is commanded by a snarling Black British gauleiter in mini-dreads (Chukwudi Iwuji). So how seriously are we to take all this? Abi Morgan is to be applauded for creating a tightly meshed cat’s cradle of strands and themes, skilfully held in place by director Jessica Hobbs. Somewhere in there, The Split has dramatic but nonetheless serious things to say about the divorce industry.

The plotline in which a comedian was dissuaded from vengefully assaulting his estranged wife (and agent) in a stand-up routine was there for a reason: The Split doesn’t see itself as exploiting divorce entirely for entertainment. The performance of Meera Syal, as an abandoned wife who discovers her rich husband has paid for her best friend’s breast implants, is a searing statement of intent. This is going to get raw, and Hannah’s claim to “play by the book” will be tested. As will her own marriage. The stuff about stilettos looks horribly true, as does Hannah’s steely blonde powerbob. And Walker’s every utterance and expression command you to believe her.

@JasperRees

Like two parties in a toxic marriage, The Split is not on speaking terms with the more boring bits of reality

rating

Editor Rating: 
4
Average: 4 (1 vote)

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