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Sunday, 20 September 2020

REVIEW: BBC One's 'Us' proves to be a tricky adaptation.




Us, based on the novel by David Nicholls follows a family on their final holiday as a threesome. The story begins when Connie (Saskia Reeves) tells her husband Douglas (Tom Hollander) she doesn't want to be with him anymore. She doesn't have a reason. It's not you, it's me isn't applicable, they just don't function as a couple. 

Connie has grown tired of her life with Douglas and teenage son Albie (Tom Taylor) who is flying the nest for university. Douglas scrambles to keep the life he's known together and the couple agree to go on the tour around Europe they'd already planned as a way of reconnecting with their son before he goes off on his own adventure.

The holiday begins in Paris, where Douglas and Connie struggle to hide the tension between them from Albie, who's already less-than-thrilled to be backpacking with his parents. Though the family dynamic is believable here, the main issue I had with the opening episode is the fact that I found the threesome really difficult to connect with. Hollander does his best with Douglas, who spends most of this first episode (there are four episodes) trying to be the man he believes his wife wants him to be, but can't shake his uptight nature. Reeves is the perhaps the easiest to connect with, as you can understand why she dreads rattling around the house with a husband she doesn't love, but everything here feels artificial.

The drama flashes back to the pair in the early days meeting at a party. Young Douglas is just as socially awkward as his older counterpart while young Connie is forthright and aggressive. Rather than paint the young as a couple destined for love, the flashbacks leave you wondering whether the pairing ever really liked one another.

On the family's first night in France, Albie exchanges an evening spent with his mum and dad for time alone on the streets of Paris with his guitar leaving his parents to endure an awkward evening meal that Douglas eventually abandons. He wanders the streets of Paris unsure of how to handle the situation. A phone call from Connie temporarily calms him, but it's clear he needs her more than she needs him.


The script never quite gets the balance right between light and shade. When the couple overhears their son having sex in the room next door Douglas is immediately sent into a panic. In an exchange I've been told is lifted directly from the pages of the novel, he ponders whether he should send a text to tell the happy humping couple to stop or keep the noise down. It's a scene that has been used in virtually every parent-teen sitcom you can remember and here it feels like a predictable add on. 

The story, at least in this first episode belongs to Douglas. He's a man who has become complacent. He's lost touch with his son, who would rather be anywhere other than in his company, and the wife he relies upon has told him their relationship is over. The world he knows is slowly falling apart and he doesn't know how to cope or to mend the situation. It's a story I've not seen told before, but unfortunately, the script lets this one down for me.

Perhaps this comes down the fact that the story is adapted from the novel. A lot of conversations don't ring true. The characters are cold and difficult to care about and as a viewer, there's no real jeopardy if you struggle to care about whether Douglas and Connie can save their marriage. At this early stage, there's little to keep me coming back next week or heading to the boxset on the iPlayer. The characters are paper-thin, it's not overly engaging and despite strong performances, particularly from Hollander and Reeves I couldn't find anything here to keep me watching. 

For those who have read the novel, I'm reliably informed that Nicholls' script remains faithful so for those who know where the family end up by the end might be happy to go on the journey with them.  It's also a good excuse to marvel at a time where film crews took take casts across Europe. It was a simpler time before we all carried pocket-sized hand sanitizer and washed our hands till they were sore. It's a perfectly watchable series, but personally,  I didn't feel the story really worked well enough as a four-part series.

                      Us Continues Sunday at 9.00pm on BBC One.

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