Friday 14 December 2018

Come Home TV review: 'Erratic characters and tone sink BBC/RTE three-part drama'

Christopher Eccleston and Paula Malcomson in Come Home, BBC.
Christopher Eccleston and Paula Malcomson in Come Home, BBC.

Pat Stacey

Television writers used to be happy just being television writers. Now, they all seem to want to be showrunners — or even, god help us all, auteurs.

It’s no longer enough to get a “written by” credit; increasingly, it’s “created and written by”.

Danny Brocklehurst, writer and, if you please, “creator” of three-part drama Come Home, which started on BBC1 and RTE1 last night, is also listed in the opening titles as an executive producer.

And maybe that’s the problem with it: a lack of distance; nobody to say, ‘Hang on a moment, this isn’t quite working, let’s try a rewrite.’

Some things about Come Home, set and filmed in Belfast, work very well. The primary one is Christopher Eccleston as mechanic Greg, a family man with his own small garage. Nobody does tormented and intense better than Eccleston — who, by the way, does what sounds to these Dublin ears like a very convincing Belfast accent.

Greg has good reason to feel tormented and intense. After 19 years of marriage, his wife Marie, played by Paula Malcomson (Ray Donovan, the Hunger Games franchise), has walked out on him and their three kids.

Strangely, rather than make a clean break, she’s moved into a terraced house just two miles away. Why, we don’t yet know, although it should become clearer in next week’s  episode, which unfolds from Marie’s perspective.

Come Home is clearly one of those dramas that tries to keep us guessing and on the back foot as our sympathies switch between characters. The problem with this, however, is that it’s hard to find anyone to root for to begin with. Everyone behaves so inconsistently, it’s like they had personality transplants between different scenes.

The tone is equally erratic. Greg’s catastrophic attempt at internet dating (even though he’s supposedly been left emotionally devastated by Marie’s walkout) borders on comedy.

When the woman he’s arranged to meet arrives in the pub, he over-enthuses about the book he’s brought along to read: Jon Ronson’s The Psychopath Test.

Then, he embarks on a lengthy, self-pitying rant about his wife. His already slim chance of romance vanishes altogether when a pack of condoms tumbles out of his pocket.

“You won’t be needing those tonight,” snaps his date, who works in waste disposal and clearly thinks Greg belongs in the rubbish bin.

Luckily, salvation is on hand in the form of Brenna (Kerri Quinn), the sandwich delivery woman who drops by Greg’s garage every day with his tuna and mayo, plus a side serving of flirting.

Greg intervenes when he sees Brenna’s abusive husband physically assaulting her outside the pub. He takes a beating for his trouble, but also ends up taking Brenna to his house and into his bed. Greg can obviously flick a switch and turn from chump to charmer in seconds flat.

Without consulting his kids, he moves Brenna and her young son into the family home, supposedly to protect them from her thuggish husband. Soon, the two of them are going at it, very loudly, like a pair of horny Duracell bunnies.

There’s more careless character development here. Brenna is initially depicted as warm, loving and kind-hearted. Once she gets a few drinks down her, though, she inexplicably transforms into a crude and overbearing caricature who asks Greg’s 14-year-old-daughter if she’s ever tried drugs and mocks his 17-year-old son for moping.

“What have you got to be stressed about?” she taunts. “Your mummy left, it was crap, but life goes on.”

It surely does. And two more hours of this unconvincing drama might be too much of that life to squander.

Read more: Viewers were divided over Christopher Eccleston's Northern Irish accent in Come Home 

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