BBC didn’t get off to the best start in 2018 with regards to their drama output, but the channel has severely upped its game as of late, with the latter half of the year producing hits like Bodyguard and Killing Eve — both of which are among some of their finest offerings to date. As we head towards the end of the year, it appears that this trend of well-scripted dramas is set to continue for the BBC, and their latest original offering comes in the form of Mrs Wilson, a series that is inspired by true events, and for all intents and purposes, should really be airing on a Sunday night rather than the Tuesday night slot it actually occupies.
Mrs Wilson centres around Alison Wilson’s (Ruth Wilson) discovery that her late husband, Alexander (Iain Glen), a novelist and ex-Secret Intelligence Service man, had another wife.It’s a true story, one that’s very close to home for actress Ruth Wilson, who is portraying her real-life grandmother in this mini-series.
Our protagonist struggles to come to terms with the fact that she didn’t really know her hubby at all. As far as pacing goes, the series wastes little time in establishing its narrative, with Alexander dying within the first ten minutes. However, it’s the moment that Gladys Wilson (Elizabeth Rider) — Alexander’s other wife — arrives on Ruth’s doorstep, that the story really gets going.
While there’s plenty to praise about Mrs Wilson, it’s the strong scripts that largely do the story justice. A narrative such as this sounds like it would be a complicated one to dramatise —what with the fact that due to the secrecy of Alexander’s work Ruth cannot confide in anyone, not to mention her refusal to allow her children to know the truth — but writer Anna Symon manages to avoid all of these problems, dramatising the convoluted tale through both a present-day narrative and a series of flashbacks.
I often find flashbacks to be derivative, but that’s far from the case here. They don’t do the work for Symon, but rather convey a little bit of Alison’s story, before leaving viewers to work out the rest. As a result, the suspense is maintained until the episode’s conclusion. What’s more, Symon’s use of the device prevents her from having to explain the past events via expository dialogue. Speaking of her script, she dramatises Alison’s conflict superbly. Conveying such an anguish is a tall task for any writer, but to do so when said character is unable to communicate her feelings to anyone is almost impossible, and yet Symon manages to do so beautifully.
The story is so compelling that it’s really not surprising it’s inspired by true events. Alison’s decision to forge a decree absolute is arguably the episode’s greatest moment, as it demonstrates just how far the protagonist is willing to go to hide the truth. The rapid storytelling method is appreciated, and it maintains our interest throughout. The concluding moments offer a new revelation — one that will no doubt spur Alison to discover what else she didn’t know about Alexander — as she learns that her husband had a third wife, Dorothy (Keeley Hawes). Make no mistake, this story is only just beginning.
The direction and cinematography are equally as superb as the writing, with two very different colour pallets being used throughout — one designated to the flashback narrative and the other to the present day events. This aids in distinguishing which part of the story we’re witnessing, but even more than that, it helps in establishing the tone of each narrative. The flashbacks — which convey a happier Ruth, as she and Alexander grow close — are presented with a bright, yellow-ish filter, whereas the present day events — in which Alison struggles to come to terms with the truth about her husband — are accompanied by a darker depressing blue shade.
Often a trait of BBC dramas, Mrs Wilson boasts a pretty great cast, led by Ruth Wilson, who is mesmerising as the series’ troubled protagonist. You might’ve heard of actors portraying themselves in films and television series’ but The Affair actress takes things to the next here, playing her grandmother for the purpose of this true story. Iain Glen delivers a nuanced performance as Alexander, exuding the warmth of his iconic Game Of Thrones character, which makes it hard to believe that Alexander would be capable of carrying out such a betrayal.
If the first episode is anything to go by, then Mrs Wilson has all the makings of a compelling drama series. Again, the decision to air a period piece such as this one on Tuesday night is baffling to say the least, as it’s a drama worthy – both narratively and tonally – of the coveted Sunday night primetime slot. Without it, I fear it might suffer in regards to viewership. Nonetheless, BBC has once again delivered with Mrs Wilson, which is definitely worth your time.
Contributed by Stephen Patterson
Mrs Wilson continues Tuesdays at 9pm on BBC One.