Together: Sharon Horgan digs deep in a pained performance opposite James McAvoy

TV review: This BBC drama is rooted in the hopes, fears and claustrophobia of coronavirus

Sharon Horgan and James McAvoy throw up sparks as a semi-estranged couple

Sharon Horgan and James McAvoy throw up sparks as a semi-estranged couple

 

Lockdown has gifted us some classic pop albums and turned Taylor Swift into the folk-rock heroine we didn’t know we needed. But its impact on other popular arts is as yet harder to gauge. Television’s latest attempt to speak to our hopes, fears, frustrations and claustrophobia is Dennis Kelly’s Together (BBC Two, 9pm).

It’s sharp, bleak, slightly ranting in places, and sees Sharon Horgan and James McAvoy throwing up sparks as a semi-estranged couple adjusting to the new normal.

It’s also a bit of a slog at 90 minutes. And director Stephen Daldry’s device of having the two leads speak to the camera, as though the viewer were an interloper in their living room, is initially discommoding.

However, the biggest issue is a script that isn’t nearly as zinging as it thinks it is. Horgan at one point describes her partner as having “the same level of charm as diarrhoea in a pint glass”. Which is graphic – yet perhaps not as finely-worked as it needs to be given Together’s blatant aspirations to be a Play for Today for the 21st century.

Horgan does a lot of the heavy lifting and digs deep in a monologue in which her character (“She”) argues her mother’s death in a care home was a result of the botched lockdown by the British government. “I can’t help escape the feeling that my mother was killed,’ says Horgan. “She was killed by stupidity, she was killed by dumb f**kery.”

This is where the mileage of Irish viewers may vary. A polemic about Boris Johnson’s cavalier response to the pandemic is well-timed given present controversies in the UK around the issue. Still, it does limit somewhat Together’s aspirations to speak to the universal experience of coronavirus. Much of what Kelly has to say simply doesn’t resonate beyond the UK.

McAvoy brings a movie star aura to the part of a cynical every-bloke. “ He” is conservative (he thinks people should “work for a living”) while “She” is a bleeding heart, who works for an international charity and believes Jeremy Corbyn would have saved the world.

Horgan went through a divorce in 2019 and there is real pain in her performance as her character wrestles with a disintegrating relationship. Daldry and Kelly, best known for the cult sci-fi series Utopia, pour in hope, too, as we see the couple’s love for one another renewed under straitened circumstances

The flawed protagonists aren’t appreciably more likeable as the final curtain beckons – but they’re trying to be better people and to be decent to each other. It’s a vaguely happy conclusion – but, more importantly, an honest one. And if Together is a sometimes bumpy journey its message that in the end all we have is one another lands powerfully.