‘Do you enjoy doing this?’ someone asked hotshot divorce lawyer Hannah Stern in the first episode of The Split. ‘Watching people tearing themselves apart?’
The answer, it turns out, is no, not really. Because, behind the tailored suits, spiky heels and shiny platinum bob (if that haircut’s not called a Legally Blonde, then it should be) that she wears like armour while swimming with the sharks of the world’s divorce capital, Hannah is distinctly queasy about the whole, messy business of separation. Which is hardly surprising, given the faultline that’s run through her own family since the day her father went out for a paper 30 years ago, and never came back.
This is the fascinating duality at the heart of Abi Morgan’s zesty new drama – and who better to give it life than the fabulous Nicola Walker, who sells the tension between a character’s inner and outer dialogues better than just about any other actor on television right now.
Though the central plotline pitches Hannah and her wayward sister Nina (Annabel Scholey) in a head-to-head battle as rival briefs in a bitter divorce case, The Split isn’t a legal drama, as such. Instead, Morgan’s focus is firmly on relationships: between parents and children, husbands and wives, friends, siblings and lovers. (In its more heart-warming moments, it has the feel of a less saccharine Cold Feet.)
This spaghetti tangle of interwoven lives proves a gift for a terrific ensemble cast including Stephen Mangan, Meera Syal, Anthony Head and Stephen Tompkinson. Deborah Findlay, meanwhile, is magnificent as Ruth, the flinty matriarch who raised Hannah and her sisters with a tough love verging on indifference. But it’s Walker, with her silk-and-steel mix of toughness and compassion, that gives the show its beating heart.
After a bit of stumble with 2016’s overwrought crime thriller River, The Split finds Morgan (The Hour, Shame) back firing on all cylinders, delivering a story about the love we make and the love we break that, on the evidence so far, looks like a keeper.
The Woman in White
Purists annoyed by the recent liberties taken with Agatha Christie’s Ordeal by Innocence should feel on safer ground with this more traditional treatment of Wilkie Collins’ knotty gothic thriller. That said, it’s not entirely a museum piece: ‘How is it men crush women time and again, and go unpunished?’ asked the free-spirited Marian Halcombe (Jessie Buckley) in the opening monologue, with a challenging stare down the camera lens. Point taken.
With no studio and no host (save for a Fisher Price-style plastic box, voiced by Alex Horne) this no-frills mash-up of Gogglebox and Taskmaster – in which five families race to complete a series of challenges in their own living rooms – has to be cheapest game show ever made. So by all means complain all you want about the BBC spending your licence fee on such nonsense… but at least they don’t appear to have spent very much of it.
Published in Waitrose Weekend, April 26, 2018
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