A marriage under the microscope!

A marriage under the microscope! Sean Bean and Nicola Walker shine as a fractious couple in a bittersweet new comedy drama

  • Sean Bean and Nicola Walker are starring together in comedy drama, Marriage
  • The BBC series is the latest offering from Stefan Golaszewski 
  • He says he’s tried to make the first drama that shows what marriage is really like

Airport departure lounges, those bastions of stress, discomfort and boredom, have been responsible for many a marital squabble. The opening scene of new comedy drama Marriage conveys this universal truth with a bizarre row over jacket potatoes between its two main players while they wait to board their plane home from a holiday in Spain. 

As the couple, Ian and Emma, bitterly shout and swear at each other it’s clear that the row over spuds is masking something deeper, yet it’s punctuated by the tender looks that only a 30-year marriage can induce. And in the hands of two of our finest actors, Sean Bean and Nicola Walker, this strained yet affectionate relationship is compellingly believable. 

Marriage is the latest series from Stefan Golaszewski, who’s aiming to repeat the success of his bittersweet, award-winning comedies Mum and Him & Her with this four-parter for BBC1. He says he’s tried to make the first drama that shows what marriage is really like, as opposed to the sanitised television version of it we’re usually fed. 

Sean Bean and Nicola Walker (pictured) star in a new comedy drama, Marriage

‘When people get married they make a completely impossible pledge to be together happily for the rest of their lives,’ says Stefan. ‘No one can do that, yet everyone tries, and that’s what makes it a beautiful thing. 

‘You spend all day every day trying to make this thing work that really shouldn’t. It’s impossible to live happily with one person for the rest of your life, but you try it because you love each other and it’s worth trying for.’ 

He believes that in some ways the series complements his other two. ‘The reason the stuff I write tends to be funny or ironic is a reflection of the fact that the world is fundamentally ridiculous and everything in it is pointless. 

‘The only thing that isn’t is love, and the connection between people. If I think about it, that’s probably the thing that links everything I’ve written, there’s a central focus on seeking togetherness.’ 

The action takes place during the two-week period after Ian and Emma get back from their holiday. Pictured, Sean Bean and Nicola Walker in character

All of his shows focus on the seemingly mundane, yet he manages to find drama in it. When we meet Ian and Emma they’re at a pivotal point in their lives. 

Ian’s beloved mother has recently died and he’s just been made redundant. He’s lost. Emma meanwhile is struggling to cope with her demanding father (played brilliantly by James Bolam) while pursuing her ambitions at work. 

Then there’s their adopted daughter Jessica (Chantelle Alle), who has a horrendously controlling new boyfriend. 

The British habit of not saying things that need to be said hangs heavy in the air throughout. Every pause and stumble comes from Stefan’s script. 

‘I like having as few words as possible in a scene,’ he says. ‘Casting Nicola and Sean was great as I was able to rewrite the scripts and strip away as much dialogue as I could, knowing I had two actors who could convey everything for me. 

‘I’m very specific on the script. It’s important for this kind of writing that what we film is what I want, down to every ‘err’ or ‘yeah’. 

‘When the plotlines are as minimal as these are and based on such tiny shifts in emotion or mood, you have to have absolutely pinpoint tools to tell that story.’ 

Sean relished the chance to work with such a different kind of script. ‘Stefan’s dialogue is very natural and free-flowing, but it doesn’t seem like that sometimes when you’re saying it,’ he admits. 

‘There’s a lot happening between the sentences, which is hard to get your head around, but it makes the dialogue rich. He throws in a lot of other bits – opening and shutting bins, getting a tissue out while you’re talking – which is something you have to get used to.’ 

Nicola agrees that forensically exploring the details of a mundane life can be exhausting to film. 

‘There are times we’ve laughed off-camera as I’ve made about 30 sandwiches and boiled the kettle 28 times to shoot one scene, but they’re simple actions you do every day,’ she says. ‘It’s all in the detail, it’s very revealing.’ 

The British habit of not saying things that need to be said hangs heavy in the air throughout. Every pause and stumble comes from Stefan’s script. Pictured, the stars on screen

Sometimes the details could be pretty personal. ‘My most memorable scene was applying cream to Sean’s thigh area,’ laughs Nicola. 

‘It was a beautiful moment, and one I never expected, but Ian had a nasty rash. It was a tremendous day in my professional career! Luckily it was in a tasteful place.’

The action takes place during the two-week period after Ian and Emma get back from their holiday. While Ian seems stuck in a rut, Emma is invited to a work conference with her boss Jamie (Henry Lloyd-Hughes), something Ian’s uncomfortable with. 

‘It’s a moment in time and you drop in to watch their lives,’ says Sean. ‘You see what a relationship is, what a marriage is, the doubts, fears, joys, happiness and heartbreak that go into everyday living.’ 

There may well be a lot of squirming on sofas when the show turns a mirror on the mundanity of marriages up and down the country tomorrow night. 

  • Marriage, Sunday, 9pm, BBC1. 

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