Why you should catch up with ITV’s Flesh and Blood
Ivan Radford | On 01, Mar 2020
The beautiful British coastline. A body on the shore. A family filled with suspicion, secrets and sadness. ITV’s new series, Flesh and Blood, couldn’t sound more like Broadchurch when it tried. Where that modern classic was driven by its characters’ grief and communal mistrust, however, Flesh and Blood is driven by the drive to keep viewers hooked for one more episode. What they both have in common, though, is that they’re both ridiculously gripping.
The four-part drama follows Vivien (Francesca Annis), the recently widowed mother of three: Helen (Claudie Blakley), Jake (Russell Tovey) and Natalie (Lydia Leonard). They’re all shocked to discover that she’s found herself a new man, Mark (Stephen Rea), and that she’s increasingly in love with him. Those tensions simmer and bubble all the way up to her birthday celebrations – and flash-forwards to a police interview with Vivien after the fact make sure we know that those celebrations end badly.
That structure gamely challenges us to guess what will happen – what has already happened – in a way that’s less elegant than some of ITV’s better dramas. But there’s elegance in that unsubtle framing, and writer Sarah Williams proves more than adept at weaving together different strands to keep us guessing.
All the siblings are as unhappy and untrusting as each other. Natalie is having an affair with her boss, Tony (Vincent Regan), and is getting increasingly frustrated at his inability to leave his wife. Helen’s marriage is slowly crumbling as she focuses more on her job. And Jake is struggling to win back his wife and their kids after their lives were upended by his gambling debts – but at least has his massage sessions with client Stella (Sharon Small) to keep him sane.
In between all of them, Imelda Staunton quietly shines as nosy neighbour Mary, the kind of supporting character who could be a waste of Staunton’s talents, but has just enough complexity and hidden depth to give the BAFTA-winning actress something to sink her teeth into. She’s supportive and encouraging of her next door neighbour, but even she, in her loving kindness, seems at odds with this new arrival on the scene.
The cast are excellent, with Lydia Leonard and Russell Tovey in particular not only selling the family’s difficult dynamic, but also undermining themselves as credible judges of character. Annis, too, treads a nice line between swooningly smitten and occasionally worried about her unexpected new partner. But Stephen Rea is the MVP of the impressive ensemble, playing everything with a weaselly presence, always glancing to one side or acting slightly too awkwardly for someone who’s sincere.
The result is increasingly implausible, but also a shrewdly observed portrait of dysfunction and doubt, leaving you wondering just who the soon-to-be-corpse could be. By the time we find out, the chase is already afoot for the culprit – even as we wonder just who that culprit might be. And, once we have that answer, the strength of the writing, the quality of the cast and the convincingly messy exchanges between them all just leave you wanting a second season to give it more time to explore the aftermath. Classy pulp fiction for dark winter nights – expect to binge the whole lot.
Flesh and Blood is available on ITV Hub. It is also available on BritBox, as part of a £5.99 monthly subscription.