With one of his last notable appearances on British TV encouraging him to vie for Dawn French's ever-lasting love, Sean Bean's return to the small screen doesn't go unnoticed. Armed with a sadly used gym membership and Nicola Walker as a wife, Bean's dithering and jealous husband Ian is one half of a fantastically souring whole in BBC One's new 4-part drama Marriage. Emma (Walker) and Ian have been married for 27 years, chartering the ups and downs of everyday routines, jobs, and the livelihood of their adopted daughter Jessica (Chantelle Alle). It's a change of pace for Bean, but one that's fully welcomed.
Unless viewers have been otherwise engaged, they will be fully aware of the tedious mundanity that comes with a lifelong partnership. Marriage isn't afraid to take that perspective and run with it, with writer and director Stefan Golaszweski spearheading an introspection that speaks to the modern Victor Meldrew. At their core, Emma and Ian are sad in every sense of the word. While Emma takes a superior high road with her work colleagues, unemployed Ian uses his time to find connection in all the wrong ways. It's only when they come together to put the world to rights that audiences see any glimpse of personality, finding a twisted joy in perceived faults around them. With the rest of their family frequently branding them as fakes, Marriage unpacks an intriguing anti-romance angle rarely seen in the throes of middle age, willing to paint its protagonists as villains in order to get to the truth.
There aren't many actors that can make a 15-minute argument about jacket potatoes compelling, but Sean Bean and Nicola Walker are a perfect thespian match. Known for dynamite BBC roles in The Split and Last Tango In Halifax, it's a refreshing change to see Walker as an edgeless sap in suburban life. As expected she plays the role to perfection, embodying the quiet yet poisonous disapproval found in generations of motherhood. Bean is never too far behind, chasing his tail to harass female gym workers and sweating it out at a job interview. There's a dual sense of emotional and lame sadness to his take on Ian, leaving viewers divided in where their moral support might lay. Golaszweski engineers a relationship that feels both loved and loveless, often devoid of saying anything while also sharing too much.
It's a show that could easily read as theatre, but Marriage avoids the TV curse of over-explanation. Emotions are left to linger in living rooms and graveyards, creating a unique complex in the art of human-to-human connection. For viewers that live for a deep dive into the human psyche, Marriage is a guaranteed treat — provoking questions that almost show themselves yet wash over life in a sea of grey.