Welcome to the heavyweight league, Martin Clunes. This isn’t a dig at his size (he’s cuddly, not fat) but praise for his emergence as a truly classy actor. (Readers who don’t like praise being lavished should turn off now).
Depths never really evident in No Place Like Home and Men Behaving Badly emerged when Clunes played Mr Chips at Christmas and have been bolstered by his triumph as good-natured funeral director William Shawcross in William And Mary.
This drama could have been overloaded with manipulative, cheap schmaltz, with its combination of births, deaths and romance, but has become a charming, realistic successor to Cold Feet in the once-the-nostalgic-crap-is-over Sunday night slot. Despite having plenty of plots, William And Mary has never been rushed. William’s tentative relationship with Julie Graham’s midwife (aka baby catcher) Mary has been an on-off affair without being reduced to ridiculous will they?-won’t they? levels and mindless comedy-of-errors capers. And down at William’s funeral parlour, there’s been no temptation to imitate Six Feet Under, even with the far-fetched ashes-into-space incident early in the series.
The minor characters have all had enough to do without being clumsily shoe-horned into the bigger picture. The couple’s kids may be too good to be true, but it’s nice to see the next generation not being portrayed as uncommunicative monsters. William’s shrewd housekeeper and kindly employees have his best interests at heart. Mary’s interfering mother is just the right side of annoying.
It’s been a total delight and has deserved the high – and growing – ratings it has recorded. The sequel will feature the pair’s attempt at married bliss, which may take the edge off a bit, but we can’t wait.