TV Review: The A Word
Family dramas are never in short supply on television and this month a couple more appear.
The A Word (Wednesdays, 8.30pm, UKTV) follows a young couple, Alison (Morven Christie of Grantchester) and Paul Hughes (Lee Ingleby), as they face up to their gorgeous and quirky son five-year-old Joe being diagnosed with autism.
The first episode makes short work of bringing the issue out into the open and whilst Alison and Paul initially are in denial, pressure from extended family and circumstances as Joe starts school quickly force them to confront the reality.
Joe's autism and its effects on the family are mostly subtlety portrayed. From the opening moments of Joe walking along the middle of a winding, country road all alone to the scene of his mother driving him round in the car to get him to sleep at night – they're scenes that stick with you. No parent could fail to feel a pang of emotion at Alison covering up for her son during a game at his birthday party.
"You want your own son to be the first one out on his birthday?" she replies unrepentantly when her husband calls her on it afterwards.
But this isn't just about autism and parenthood, it's a wider family drama. And throw into the family mix Alison's brother recently returned to the village; his recently unfaithful wife and outspoken grandfather Maurice (Christopher Eccleston) – and it's soon clear that Joe's autism is not the only issue facing this family. The house is teeming with unspoken resentments, tension and frustration – you know, like family life.
With all this going on, it's perhaps not surprising that it occasionally drifts into some slightly less subtle moments. "World shut your mouth..." blasts out on Joe's headphones as the family bicker around him. Yep, we get it, Joe might have autism but he's not the only struggling to communicate effectively.
And, in a country of 60 million people, it seems an extraordinary stroke of bad luck that the only specialist qualified to help Joe is the ex-lover of Alison's unfaithful sister-in-law. What are the chances of that?
But, those are small niggles. For the most part this is a quality piece of drama tackling an emotional issue. There's some great writing, some good performances and enough moments of warm humour to leave you feeling just a little bit uplifted.
The Durrells (from next Wednesday, 8.30pm, Prime) is a lighter take on family life. Set in the late 1930s, it's adapted from the much-loved books by naturalist Gerald Durrell recounting his childhood. When widowed matriarch Louisa (Keeley Hawes) is drowning in debt, she does what any sensible mother would do and shifts the whole family to the Greek island of Corfu.
Try this now and you'll most likely find yourself sandwiched between an English pub and a disappointed family from A Home In The Sun. But back then it looked gorgeous – all unspoilt coves, glistening sea, sunshine and friendly locals. And it makes this a real delight to watch.