sun 01/11/2020

The Split, Series 2, BBC One review - where the law and family fortunes collide | reviews, news & interviews

The Split, Series 2, BBC One review - where the law and family fortunes collide

The Split, Series 2, BBC One review - where the law and family fortunes collide

Does Abi Morgan's legal drama really want to be a soap?

Lawyers in love: Stephen Mangan, Nicola Walker and Barry Atsma

The return of screenwriter Abi Morgan’s series about a largely-female London law firm is no doubt in tune with our gender and equality-conscious times, but that doesn’t mean it’s great television.

The return of screenwriter Abi Morgan’s series about a largely-female London law firm is no doubt in tune with our gender and equality-conscious times, but that doesn’t mean it’s great television. Its legal storylines are counterpointed against episodes of sentimentality and self-congratulation, as if it wanted to be The Good Wife but ended up as Doctors. It’s the kind of show where a character might notice an old photo on the mantelpiece and drift off in a sentimental reverie, encouraged by insipid singer-songwriter balladry.

The best news is Nicola Walker, who clothes herself in the discreetly stylish attire of clear-thinking, empathetic family lawyer Hannah Stern during office hours, but leads a panicky double life at home thanks to her ongoing affair with her colleague Christie. She’s having trouble getting over the past infidelity of her husband Nathan (Stephen Mangan), not helped by his grovelling neediness and pitiable attempts at humour.

The Split, Series 2, BBC OneTheir law firm Noble Hale Defoe, based in fashionable offices in Clerkenwell and now merged with an American partner in Chicago, is a sisterhood in the fullest sense of the word, since Hannah’s sisters Nina and Rose are also part of the team. Hysterical scenes of joy, accompanied by twee happy-clappy guitar music, rocked the workplace when Rose (Fiona Button) announced her pregnancy. However, in fine soap-crisis style, Rose’s joy soon turned to horror when a visit to the loo revealed that she was bleeding copiously.

The legal cases – as well as the disruptive arrival of management consultant Tyler (Damien Molony), threatening to slash, prune and rationalise – are welcome relief from the family stuff, which in this episode included back-story references like the scattering of the ashes of feckless patriarch Oscar (once played by Anthony Head) on Hampstead Heath. Juiciest of the lawsuits is the potential divorce of stage and TV star Fi Hansen (played by real-life sleb Donna Air, pictured above) from her controlling, manipulative husband Richie (Ben Bailey Smith). Not content with seducing the family nanny, he has fiendishly tied Fi up in an unconscionably punitive prenup agreement. Plenty of billable hours in prospect there.

More tenuous was the story of Bishop Tony (Louis Mahoney), an elderly cleric who proposed to go swanning around the world pursuing bucket-list adventures and to divorce his unsuspecting wife of 45 years simply “because I can”. As it happened, his plans were drastically curtailed by the unforeseen hand of fate, but the episode at least allowed Hannah to demonstrate to her sister Nina that being a lawyer needn’t necessarily mean being a cold-blooded automaton.

Juiciest of the lawsuits is the potential divorce of stage and TV star Fi Hansen

rating

Editor Rating: 
3
Average: 3 (1 vote)

Share this article

Comments

Rose is not involved in the law firm, but the mother is. I agree that the second series is disappointing.

Series 2 of The Split Seeing the characters from Season 1 continue to extract themselves from lies and break more promises was quite the ride. Affairs are messy. I believe people are capable of both ambivalence and lunacy in affairs of the heart. The fact that Hannah see-saws back and forth the between Nathan and Christie, showing up at Christie’s door the moment her home-life is a train-wreck, promising him the world, then is jolted back to Nathan when she thinks about her children, is entirely plausible. But she seems a bit greedy, a bit needy, a bit of a jerk. Make your mind up woman, stop toying with Christie. I think the series would have been 30% shorter if the director had removed all the interruptions. Time and again, people barged into private conversations or the phone would ring just before someone was about to blurt out the truth, or a message popped up inconveniently on the screen. These devices are distracting and break the flow. They do not build suspense. And for God’s sake, Hannah, stop using your phone so much! Because we have so many interruptions, we have to wait for the next DEEP TRUTH to come out, and when it does, it is usually blurted out in lightening speed, in a hysterical manner. Jarring. The real star of the show are the exquisitely appointed offices of NHD. Committing social suicide is so much easier when you can retreat to your carpeted, view-to-die for digs and curl up in the foetal position. And how many furtive looks across the glass atrium can we squeeze into one day? For Christie and Hannah, about 20, it seems. Still, the slow-mo power stride out of the lifts is one of my favourite shots. Where the production excels is during the parties, the weddings, and the office get togethers. The camera work is tight and the dialogue is natural. The cast seem genuinely affectionate to each other and the family dynamics are quite touching at times. I love that something always blows up at these events…it moves the story along. One thing that grates is the “my hurt is worse than your hurt” game Nathan and Hannah play. Her: “You screwed around, you hurt me”. Him “Yeah, I did, but YOU then screwed around with my friend” etc. Layer upon layer it builds and finally culminates in the GREATEST BETRAYAL OF ALL: the pre-nuptial bang with Christie. Oooo… that trumps everything. Now Nathan is really mad. But she just wants to forget it all, ‘fix it’. You do want to shake her sometimes. As an actress, people are commenting on Nicola’s odd mannerisms, and true, she risks becoming a caricature of herself. The constant mumbling, pausing, and repeating phrases over and over is wearying. Just finish a sentence, for Pete’s sake. Then there is the fidgeting and stroking of her desk, pen or paper as if she has a twitch. It is not effective. I like her best when she is negotiating at the table: strong, focussed and unwavering. To close, no one writes and speaks dialogue like the British. What I like most about this series is the soft sentiments spoken by Deborah Findley (Ruth). She delivers words like raindrops: pure and clean, even when she they are dripping with malice. An actor is hired to bring words to life and she is pure theatre saying her lines with great diction and conviction. I especially liked the scene she shared with Maggie. Two legendary dames of law, adversaries who have seen it all, still standing and able to laugh about it. Sugary words, but with a slight sting. Season 3….I wonder if that toe-rag music producer will appear to make life hell for all in his slimy way? Hmmm.

Add comment

newsletter

Get a weekly digest of our critical highlights in your inbox each Thursday!

Simply enter your email address in the box below

View previous newsletters