Billed as a comedy-drama, Flowers opened with Julian Barratt’s tortured children’s author Maurice attempting to hang himself from a tree – and got steadily less cheery from there.
Stripped across five nights on Channel 4 this week, the darkly unsettling story of a dysfunctional family of misfits and weirdos living in a gloomy, tumbledown country cottage is a laugh-riot of death, divorce and clinical depression, punctuated by queasy shots of slugs, ravens and writhing earthworms. If you’ve ever wondered what an episode of My Family directed by David Lynch might look like, this is probably as close as it gets.
Keeping one foot in reality, Olivia Colman is reliably brilliant as Deborah, a woman on the verge of a nervous breakdown who’s determined to keep her disintegrating brood – including witchy, Kate Bush-alike daughter Amy (Sophia Di Martino) and angry failed inventor son Donald (Daniel Rigby) – together with painfully misplaced attempts at jollity and an increasingly desperate, plastered-on smile.
In the first episode, she insisted on arranging an anniversary party for her and Maurice, in the face of resistance both from her husband and any potential guests. She ploughed on regardless, until the whole thing ended in tragedy with Maurice’s mother suffering a fatal fall, and a neighbour receiving serious burns from an exploding cheese fondue. (‘Is she going to die soon?’ Maurice asked the nurse attending his mother in the hospital. ‘Have I got time to get a coffee?’)
At times, writer-director Will Sharpe appears guilty of putting the cart before the horse by layering on the weirdness – including a blood-soaked, drink-driving clown (there’s always a clown) – then working backwards. I wish he’d had more courage in his comic convictions, too: the likes of the League of Gentlemen and Julia Davis ploughed similarly dark furrows, but not at the expense of big, proper belly laughs.
As it stands, Flowers isn’t quite sharp enough for a comedy, and not quite compelling enough for a drama. But it’s certainly original and, after watching it, I carried its characters over into a disturbingly vivid dream – which isn’t something I ever recall happening with My Family.
This new twist on the flatshare comedy sees two mismatched witnesses to a gangland killing forced into hiding together. Dopey Leanne (Kerry Howard) is determined to put her BTec in Performance Art to good use creating a new identity, prompting sensible Rhonda (Zoe Boyle) to remind her, ‘This isn’t Inside the Actors Studio – this is trying not to get murdered in Swindon’.
The script’s hit and miss, but the two leads are terrific: it’s no surprise Howard has been cast as a young Hyacinth Bucket in BBC1’s upcoming Keeping Up Appearances prequel.
Game of Thrones
The return of the world’s most talked-about TV show arrived a bit late for this edition of Weekend. But, as a fantasy-phobe who believes books with maps belong in the car, last year I finally sat down to watch the very first episode of Thrones, mainly so I could annoy my friends by telling them what a load of hobbity nonsense they’d been wasting their time on. One five-season, 50-episode binge watch later, I’m prepared to admit I may have been wrong.
The Lord of the Rings is still rubbish, though.
Published in Waitrose Weekend, April 28, 2016
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