The Split review: BBC's new drama is an ambitious journey about marriage, divorce and family
Sizzling but sympathetic
Can you be a good divorce lawyer and a believer in marriage? The Split is a new British television series that explores this question
How's your June working out? If your new year's resolution in 2018 was to avoid drama in your life (and you've succeeded so far), you can still indulge in a juicy affair from the comfort of your home. Charming audiences from a comfortable distance, The Split is your delicious divorce drama surrounding a modern mess of marriage, divorce and the stories in between.
Written by BAFTA and Emmy award-winning Abi Morgan, The Split premiered to an audience of 4.3 million viewers in its first episode when it aired in the UK in April. The six-episode drama centres around the conflicts of the DeFoes, a family of female lawyers who handle high-end divorce cases. Plagued by their own paradox of having a success career as divorce lawyers despite being less lucky when it comes to their life partners, the story builds itself through the ironies of the DeFoes' work and personal lives.
Hannah (played by Nicola Walker from the 2012 theatre adaption of The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time) is married to the endearing Nathan (played by Stephen Mangan from the comedy television series, Episodes) with a rosy family of three children, a house and unending bliss. But good times don't last as good-looking old flame, Christie (Barry Atsma) tempts her with an office romance. Meanwhile, her father Oscar (Anthony Head) has returned after 30 years of absence. Along with her two sisters, Nina (Annabel Scholey) and Rose (Fiona Button) and mother, Ruth (Deborah Findlay), the DeFoes struggle to keep together through fresh realisations and bitter denial.
Following her reputed works such as the television series The Hour (2011) and the Meryl Streep-starring film The Iron Lady (2011), Morgan engineers The Split with an unchanging style of narrative — raw, futile and merciless even towards her own characters. Along with the keen eye of director Jessica Hobbes and an acute delivery by Walker playing the eldest DeFoe daughter, the drama's greatest storytelling success is its transparency throughout the series. Strung through revelations and confessions, the subtle pieces come together as an eventual puzzle. Habitual routines displayed by the characters lead us into their identities — Hannah does not answer calls, while Nina shoplifts. Moments are thoughtfully weighed with intention, with scenes piercing with clarity that something is amiss. We remember the time when Nathan delights in the small touch of Hannah, a comforting finger on his back before bed and later understand that his forlornness was plain to see.
Episodes are charged with a refreshing, moving energy from the different legal cases while the DeFoes' family relations inject conflict, personality and conversation into the same paralleled topics of family, responsibility and betrayal. We are introduced to Hannah and Nathan's family of chaotic children and endearing banters only to learn of the ennui that creeps beneath the marriage. The thrilling chemistry between Hannah and Christie is forbidden but exciting, and we empathise as Hannah's eagerness to save her marriage weakens, exposing the fragility of family.
Powered through female-led performances, Walker returns to the screen from her last appearance in the serial drama Collateral (2018). We are with her as she sinks in the familiar joys of home at a playful dinner, thrill with her as she longs for Christie and walk with her through the early mornings, eyes stained with mascara and demeanour quiet with eventual discovery. Characters can be clumsy, flawed and disappointing. But in The Split, they are also honest through their personal journeys and we forgive their vulnerabilities.
Despite the genuine praise we have for the show, The Split ends rather prematurely. Hannah's judgement call towards the end of the series is dispiriting and without much explanation and logic. Like unravelled, coiled-back thread, the last episode can only be a tease for more. But with the announcement that the show will be back for another season, fans can only hope for more resolution to come if it ever does.
Catch The Split from Friday, 22 June 2018, exclusively on BBC First (Starhub Channel 522) and on BBC Player.