GIRLFRIENDS REVIEW

‘Who is that woman anyhow? She looks like she’s pushing fifty. She’s not even attractive.’ The relevancy of the fifty-something woman is questioned and explored in Kay Mellor’s (Love, Lies and Records, Fat Friends) new female-friendly drama, GIRLFRIENDS.

GIRLFRIENDS ITV

Somehow, ITV managed to get Miranda Richardson to star in a mid-week drama. The woman is an Oscar nominated acting legend. Her character, or performance thereof, pretty much steals the show. She plays Susan, a vibrant, sassy, amusing and heart-breaking features editor of a bridal magazine. Of course, there’s the odd cliché thrown in – single mother in love with a boss she can never have nor let go of, a gay son, taking a million supplements and doing facial Pilates. But it’s Miranda playing it, and she owns it.

Zoe Wanamaker is a natural on screen, as the much put-upon Gail she is the perfect example of the so-called ‘sandwich’ woman – looking after her grandson and her own mother at the same time. She is also freshly divorced and her son has just been released from prison. Following? Okay, so this is a little fast-paced, especially the first twenty minutes but it settles down in the second half so stick with it.

The crux of the story is meant to focus around Linda, ably played by Phyllis Logan, still riding high on her Downton fame, and who, it must be said, deserves the chance to really shine instead of hanging about on the side lines. She plays the clueless housewife who has just lost her husband in devastating circumstances; yet nothing seems all it’s cracked up to be here - and I can see this taking on a bit of a mystery angle as the show goes on.

When you’ve got this calibre of actors you know you’re in for a treat; the women could read their shopping lists and still hold our attention. Luckily, they don’t have to, as TV drama extraordinaire Kay Mellor wrote and directed the highly anticipated show. It’s a mixed bag with Mellor, I always enjoy how her dramas are set up North and the places on screen resemble my own life.

Yet at times things can be heavy-handed, and indeed there is nothing particularly subtle here. In fact, there’s a whole wallop of the Mamma Mia/First Wives Club vibe going on – I’m betting we have a sing-along before time’s up; if you’re okay with that then it won’t matter, just enjoy the ups and downs for an hour a week.

I can say with all certainty that there isn’t much here my Dad would enjoy. But maybe that’s a good thing - perhaps it’s about time we not only had actresses of a certain age leading a show but a show about, and meant for, women too. Though I must take issue with the accents: apparently here up North we omit most of the linking words from phrases, ‘the’ for example, expendable it seems.

We’ve all been there, ‘t’cat won’t crap in’t tray’, it’s one of life’s tests – and Mellor has made a career out of taking normal lives and showing us just why they’re so interesting. Presently, I’m not sure what this will turn out to be; there’s the odd hint of a feminist air with threats of legal action against ageist and sexist dismissal from jobs; the discussion of menopause and missing sex suggests a focus on issues usually ignored in television dramas, but there’s a sly ironic humour too – the fact Richardson’s character can’t imagine her 82-year-old mother having sex shows us that ageist views aren’t limited to women in their fifties.

Light-hearted but well-acted drama to brighten a dreary January night – but we’ll see how it fares against Channel 4’s Kiri next week.

- Aired on ITV1, January 3 2017 at 21:00.

Rhonda Calladine

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