Imelda Staunton plays a blinder in ITV’s Flesh and Blood but for a thriller, there’s not much that is actually that thrilling apart from Russell Tovey’s chest hair
“I never ever dreamt it would end like this”
The myriad ways in which we can now consume television content means that programmers can find themselves in a bit of a bind, searching for the best way to ensure their show breaks through in such a crowded marketplace. Just look at The Split, releasing the entirety of its second series online whilst also going for a weekly broadcast. Stripping a show over a week for four consecutive nights, as ITV did with Flesh and Blood, may seem like a happy medium between those two modes but in this day and age, I don’t it matches either.
Written by Sarah Williams (Becoming Jane; Small Island), Flesh and Blood is a lush family drama, edging towards thriller territory, as a body is discovered in this sleepy Sussex beach town. And in true winding narrative style, we don’t know who has carked it. Francesca Annis’ Vivien is quietly surprised to find new love with Stephen Rea’s Mark but her adult children don’t think she’s been playing the grieving widow for long enough and once he moves into their former childhood home, hackles are truly raised, conveniently allowing them to turn from the drama in their own lives.
Thing is, none of those lives proved particularly interesting, Louise Hooper’s direction seeming to prefer travel brochure glossiness over substantive character development. The fractured family lives and stunted emotions of highly-strung Helen (Claudie Blakley), highly-sexed Jake (Russell Tovey) and highly-Natalie (Lydia Leonard) are all a bit ‘meh’ in the end; heck, even Vivien doesn’t get much of a character for Annis to get her teeth into.
The saving grace of Flesh and Blood, and possibly society as a whole, is Imelda Staunton. She plays Mary, the family’s possibly unhinged next-door-neighbour who is a brilliantly disconcerting presence as she faces questions from the investigating DI Lineham, adding an increasingly murky lens even as we think we’re edging closer to the truth of who has died. But the narrative is stretched too thinly over its too-large ensemble, wanting us to care about dilemmas that ultimately just don’t have high enough stakes.