Saturday, 12 September 2015


This article was originally published in The Dundee Courier on 12 September 2015.

Doctor Foster: Wednesday, BBC One

Lady Chatterley's Lover: Sunday, BBC One

An agonisingly slow and implausible confection, Doctor Foster is a rare misfire from Suranne Jones. This fine actress usually chooses her projects wisely, but she's hopelessly adrift in this bone-dry drama about a GP who begins to suspect that her husband, Simon, is having an affair.

The brunt of episode one – God only knows how they'll stretch this out to five hours – was preoccupied with Foster floundering in a mire of paranoid anxiety, after she discovered a stray blonde hair on Simon's scarf. Most people wouldn't regard this as incriminating evidence of extra-marital misdeeds, but for some inexplicable reason Foster leapt instantly to that conclusion.

We were initially given no evidence to suggest that Simon was the philandering type, so Foster's behaviour – checking his phone, following him from work and even asking a patient to spy on him in exchange for sleeping pills – felt borderline deranged.

The idea behind this was obvious. We were supposed to feel as panicked, confused and compelled as she was. But the conceit backfired. You simply can't relate to a protagonist whose actions don't ring true. The tension evaporates.

It didn't matter that she was eventually proved right – there would be no story otherwise - as by that point she'd been established as weirdly unsympathetic. Hats off, then, to writer Mike Bartlett for managing the seemingly impossible feat of penning a drama about infidelity in which the wronged spouse comes across as a tiresome nuisance. He also proved that it's possible to be terminally dull and absurdly melodramatic all at once. That's quite an achievement.

I get the point he's trying to make: Foster's problems drive her towards the kind of self-destructive irrationality that she warns her hypochondriac patients about. Even a respectable, sensible GP can exploit their privilege and unravel in times of personal crisis. Should we ever fully trust these supposed pillars of society?

There's a potentially interesting story to be told here, but Bartlett botches it by forcing Foster into increasingly unlikely corners. Even allowing for her rattled mental state, the scene in which she threatened a patient's abusive boyfriend was preposterous. Maddening and enervating, the Doctor Foster “experience” is like churning through a very boring fever dream.

Having never read DH Lawrence's infamous book, I couldn't tell you if Lady Chatterley's Lover was a faithful adaptation or not. However, I feel I can state with some confidence that, notwithstanding a strong, elegant performance from apple-cheeked Holliday Grainger as Lady C, it resembled a live-action Mills & Boon novella with delusions of grandeur.

Its central theme of scandalous love and lust across the class divide in Edwardian England was blatantly present and correct. Subtlety wasn't invited to this particular party. Yet at no point did the rebellious relationship between the sexually frustrated Chatterley and chippy gamekeeper Mellors feel remotely organic or convincing.

As played by a bemused-looking Richard Madden, Mellors came across as a stridently humourless northern stereotype whose thrusting nipples strived in vain to compensate for a total lack of charisma.

I kept thinking how much more effective this production might have been with, say, Poldark's Aidan Turner filling Mellor's britches. The role as written was rather thankless, so Madden wasn't entirely to blame. But an actor of Turner's smouldering calibre could, perhaps, have made it work.

As it stood, this po-faced, inadvertently comical drama was, for a supposedly erotic drama, curiously cold and neutered. I know enough about the novel to appreciate its purpose as a transgressive, challenging work of art. Shorn of its deliberate shock value - sex and profanity were thin on the ground here - it seemed pointless.

It's the first offering from BBC One's new Sunday night slate of classic 20th century literary adaptations. Things can only get better from here, right?

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