Age Before Beauty

Barely 48 hours after Sunday’s shattering Poldark finale, writer Debbie Horsfield was winding the clock back again for another period drama.

Okay, so Age Before Beauty is technically set in the present day. But it’s so strikingly similar to Horsfield’s 2002 series Cutting It, I was half expecting Avril Lavigne or Darius to pop out from behind a tree.

Actually, that’s not entirely fair: whereas Cutting It revolved around the lives and loves of a Manchester hairdressing salon run by the smart, sensible Allie (Sarah Parish) and her two sisters, this revolves around the lives and loves of a Manchester beauty salon run by the smart, sensible Bel (Polly Walker) and her three sisters. So not the same at all, really.

The opening 30 minutes stuck closely to the standard comedy drama playbook, with Sue Johnston threatening to steal the show from under everyone’s nose as vampish matriarch Ivy-Rae, who has dumped her husband and hooked up with a Spanish bullfighter called Hector el Savio del Santos de Macarena. Meanwhile, Bel’s husband Wesley (James Murray) has had his own head turned by young personal trainer Lorelei (Madeleine Mantock). Why had he suddenly cheated on his wife after 30 years, she asked him. ‘Because you made me feel 18 again,’ he simpered, pathetically.

At the midway point, though, Horsfield’s script suddenly took a handbrake turn for the sinister, with Bel’s amiable brother-in-law Teddy (Robson Green) revealed as the Machiavellian puppet-master secretly manipulating everyone’s lives from behind the scenes in order to deliver her into his arms.

Despite this intriguing twist, and some fine work from a strong cast, there’s something about Age Before Beauty that just doesn’t quite work. The relationships – particularly between Bel and her airhead sister Leanne (Kelly Harrison) – don’t convince, and even the beauty parlour looks more like a weird cross between a second-hand furniture shop and a strip club.

Horsfield is a terrific writer – I loved Making Out and The Riff Raff Element, and she’s done a sterling job on Poldark – but it’s no surprise to see these sweepings from the Cutting It floor being smuggled out in a midsummer graveyard slot.

TV extra:


Mark Kermode’s The Secrets of Cinema

Weekend’s resident cineaste continued his series on ‘the conventions which underwrite the films we love’ with a typically literate overview of coming-of-age movies, from Rebel Without A Cause to Lady Bird, via John Hughes. Along the way, he deconstructed everything from Iranian animation to French-Belgian horror-fantasy, and admitted to a personal kinship with Boyz n the Hood ‘despite the fact I grew up in Finchley, and have no experience of life in any hood’. Wonderful stuff.


Love Island

I hope you’ve appreciated this column remaining a Love Island-free safe space all summer. But now it’s all over, I will say this: While it’s easy to be sniffy about reality TV, in its own way Love Island is every bit as illuminating about the human condition as the best TV dramas. Ah, who am I kidding? It’s absolute tosh from soup to nuts, and just 10 minutes of watching these waxed, witless narcissists was enough to make my brain start leaking out of my ears. 

Published in Waitrose Weekend, August 2, 2018

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