In The Long Run
Thursday, Sky One
A new comedy this week as well as the conclusion of the second series of Mum, which one hopes will run to a third season, a fourth, a tenth, a 47th and a 98th. Ideally, it would just run wall-to-wall until the sun burns away and we’re all wiped out, and in that instance whose last words wouldn’t be, ‘But wait, but wait, we need to see if Cathy and Michael finally… kiss’? Both characters are in their 60s and the show explores grief, middle-age and loneliness, yet it may well be one of the sexiest things ever on television (bar Poldark, obviously). This week when Cathy (Lesley Manville) declared her feelings for Michael (Peter Mullan) at long last, it was one of the most beautifully written things on television ever as well as one of the most longed for. I melted as I watched and am still melting now.
Peter Mullan and Lesley Manville in Mum. Both characters are in their 60s and the show explores grief, middle-age and loneliness
For the final episode it was bonfire night. Michael arrived with the wood and announced he’d bought that house in Spain. Derek (Ross Boatman), Cathy’s brother, arrived with his partner Pauline (Dorothy Atkinson) and they were mid-row because he’d bought ‘fifty-fifty bread’ when, as Pauline pointed out, we all know that if there is no wholemeal you buy ‘granary or a seeded baton’. Pauline is a monstrous snob. Cathy’s son Jason (Sam Swainsbury) and his girlfriend Kelly (Lisa McGrillis) are about to move into their own flat. Jason and Kelly are both supremely dim. The secondary characters are all sitcom stereotypes but necessary to offset the underlying quiet romance, the underlying quiet yearning, and Manville and Mullen’s quiet (but devastatingly powerful) performances. And the secondary characters can be touching, as when Derek pleaded for a cuddle from Pauline. Touching, and painful too.
But the moment – the moment – happened towards the end of the episode, when Michael told Cathy that Jason may be getting jealous about how much time they spend together, and he said don’t worry, he understands that she’s still grieving for her late husband and ‘I’m Michael, I’m pretty boring’, and she says… ready?… she says: ‘I don’t know when or how it happened. It just sort of crept up on me. I can’t stop thinking about you. I mean, I’d love to find you boring. I’d love to look at you and not notice your eyes. I’d love to go to bed at night and not think of you and wake up in the morning and not be thinking of you and I’d love to get a text from you and not reply to it instead of standing there like an idiot and finding that all the words in the world are difficult, even the little ones. When did that happen? What am I going to do when you are in Spain and I look around the place and see all the things that you’ve done that have made me adore you…’ Beautiful writing (by Stefan Golaszewski). And then, as they stood round the bonfire, she tentatively reached to hold his hand. A third series has, apparently, already been commissioned. Will they kiss?
Whereas Mum is universal, In The Long Run, which is written by Idris Elba who also stars, is more specific to a time (Eighties) and a place (London) and if you were around during that time (Eighties) in that place (London) you will likely connect with it instantly. True, as based on Elba’s own childhood, it’s also about the black British experience and if you’re not black British you can’t have had that experience, but you can recall what that decade was like, or may have experienced similar. (As the only Jew in a comprehensive at that time, in that place, I was often asked, ‘How come you’re Jewish and don’t have a big nose?’)
Elba plays Walter, a factory worker who lives on a council estate with his wife Agnes (Madeline Appiah) and their young son, Kobna (Sammy Kamara). It opens with Walter reading a letter from his mother back in Sierra Leone saying that his younger brother, Valentine, has become ‘unruly’ and ‘I am too old to be chasing him with a shoe’ so she is sending him to London. Valentine (Jimmy Akingbola) arrives at the estate. ‘Hello, sir!,’ he calls out exuberantly to someone passing. ‘F*** off!’ comes the reply. But mostly the prejudice is left to percolate at a low level as the family tries to contain Valentine, who is certainly unruly but such fun. The prejudice, when it does percolate to the surface, comes in the form of Agnes, for example, listening to complaints about ‘coloureds’ with a quickly added, ‘No offence… I know you’re not like that.’ (In my case, it was, ‘You’re not like most Jews, are you, because they’re all so mean with money.’) This is quite broad and there are no belly laughs, but it is warm and is as much about what binds people together as it is about what divides them. I’ve seen two (of the six) and plan to keep with it, should my ‘melting’ schedule allow.