Did we like it?
A superbly acted, wonderfully uplifting drama which found pathos and humour in the despair of Maggi Jackson as she struggled to bring up her seven children, of whom all four boys suffered from autism.
What was good about it?
• The acting was uniformly excellent. It was no surprise that Helen Bonham Carter turned in a central performance as Maggi which provided a redoubtable foundation for the whole drama, but the children were brilliantly cast too.
• The biggest revelation among the kids was Christopher Parkinson as Christopher Jackson. Suffering from Asperger’s Syndrome which led him to take everything at face value and find it difficult to empathise with other people, Parkinson imbued the 12-year-old with an appropriate flat, puzzled tone of voice, but also gave additional depth with studied mannerisms and tics, and his unrelenting bewilderment.
• While it was often very funny, the script never poked fun at the disabilities of the children, merely the embarrassing situations they got themselves, and Maggi, into.
At a Christmas party, Christopher is offered some crisps from a bowl. After eyeing them nervously, the old man gently coaxes him with: “They won’t bite you.” To which Christopher replies: “Of course they won’t; crisps aren’t alive.” And when Christopher is at the police station after being robbed of his mobile phone he pesters the desk officer. “Are you a constable?” he innocently enquired. “Is that the lowest you can be?”
• In fact the quirks of the children were a boon to the narrative, as through their faults they granted any number of inventive comic scenarios such as the hyperactive Davey and young Curtis wrecking their ultra-perfect neighbour’s bathroom, sending her sobbing into her bedroom, or when a doctor assessing Christopher holds up a card with a picture of a smiling face on it and asks him what it is. “A piece of cardboard,” he blankly responds.
• One of the first things you saw Maggi do was bolt the front door with three or four separate locks. This gave the initial impression she was paranoid about burglars.
But it soon emerged the ostensibly overzealous security was actually a reasonable measure to keep her children in; and this acknowledgement also mirrored the viewer’s gradual understanding of her dilemma over her offspring and how to allow them to grow up as normally as possible.
• The episodic format which unravelled the story over a year from one Christmas to the next, gave a greater ambience of realism rather than a typically structured drama with a definite beginning, middle and end.
• Christopher being taught about teenage etiquette by his three sisters after they agree to take him out with them.
What was bad about it?
• When Maggi and her clan visit the neighbour for a Christmas party (after Maggi oversleeps because Curtis has removed the batteries from the clock resulting in the turkey being ruined), the step from the Jacksons’ own chaotic world into the normality of her neighbours was overdone by the party being soundtracked by Slade and The Darkness. In the face of such seasonal musical atrocities, Curtis and Davey’s compulsion to wreck the bathroom was quite a tame reaction.
• Eldest son Richard resembled Captain Mainwaring’s wife from Dad’s Army, in that even though he seemed to be an integral part of the family, he hardly ever appeared and when he did so remained mute.
• Some elements were too contrived, especially in the early chapters. When a neighbour opens a present for Curtis, Maggi says it will be alright so long as the gift isn’t either a clown or something red as this will cause her son to scream and panic. It was a red clown. And at the same party, none of the many guests were wearing red.