Did we like it?
It was so depressing the Grim Reaper would probably have turned over to watch highlights from the Spanish Inquisition, but it was rewarding mainly for the acting of the three principals and the educational value rather than the drama itself.
What was good about it?
• Timothy Spall and Brenda Blethyn as Bill and Wendy, who had been driven to the end of their tether by their mentally disturbed daughter Lisa. In the first scene, the couple each took an overdose to try and escape her but both survived.
• In the opening half an hour, Rebekah Staton’s portrayal of Lisa made her one of the most irritating characters we’ve ever seen on television. She was spoilt, she drover her parents to attempt suicide on numerous occasions and whimpered fretfully when any of her whims wasn’t catered for. Obviously, she was very ill but her behaviour provided a necessary insight into why her parents were so despondent.
• After Lisa was sectioned her behaviour changed as her impulses were not indulged by the medical staff, and this elicited a greater depth of character that her previous environment hadn’t allowed her to exhibit.
• Brenda Blethyn struck a fine balance between a mother trapped by her “unconditional love” for her daughter and an intolerable life as she was incessantly bawled at, had to sit in restaurants while her daughter wolfed down expensive meals before paying, or fork out hundreds of pounds to buy shoes that acted as a kind of sedative on Lisa’s tantrums before she piled them in the cupboard never to be worn.
• She was also very touching when she was in hospital and spoke to the young doctor who was engaged to be married and mourned her daughter’s fate that unlike all the young women around her, Lisa would never have a man to love her.
• The occasional stabs of black humour in an ashen-faced script such as Bill’s disappointment at his release from prison on appeal after thieving to fund his daughter’s extravagances; Wendy’s contentment in the quiet hospital after she survives the suicide attempt that killed her husband; and her reflection that “Bill would have loved his funeral”.
What was bad about it?
• As it was based on a true story (and a recent one at that), it was impossible to spot the join between fiction and reality. Had an unscrupulous solicitor really forced through Lisa’s release from the care home? Why did it take so long for the social services to recognise that Lisa was such a problem? She was 32 and had been like that since she was eight; had her parents never considered getting help for her before she drove them to attempt suicide.
• The truth of the tale also meant you had a notion of what would happen.
• The symbolism of Bill not being able to hang on any longer and letting his clawed hand slip from the windowpane of their flat before they jet off to Spain to try and commit suicide was touching the first time. However, it did feel overcooked when Wendy did exactly the same before she went to try and end her life; it wasn’t necessary her despair was keenly apparent.