‘Keep calm and pray!’ A guide to breaking up
The Break Up Channel 4, Tuesday
Amazon Prime, Monday
arriage, Groucho Marx once said, is the chief cause of divorce. Watching Steve and Terri-Ann from Bournemouth attempt to mediate their way through the remaining scraps of their relationship in
proved Marx was right. Here was a couple for whom love and hate were connected to such a dangerous extent that you wonder how they ever got past the wedding banns without raising their fists.
Charlie Russell’s documentary, slow and thoughtful, gradually exposed the different facets of their relationship. Terri-Ann was an ugly duckling who thought she would remain single forever until Steve, previously married with two daughters, swept her off her feet.
“Did you love her?” asked the interviewer, gravely.
“Yes, I did. I guess…” replied Steve with some trepidation. “I must have at some point.”
MThey had a son, Alex, after which the womanising Steve began having affairs and the pair eventually became estranged. By this point, however, Terri-Ann was pregnant with their second child, Phoebe. Not that Steve knew anything about it until TerriAnn’s mother posted a message on Facebook saying that her daughter was going into labour.
The former couple were now attempting to discuss his access to the children with the help of Victoria Hewitt from Wessex Family Mediation, a woman whose voice sounded as if she was three conversations away from a nervous breakdown. Hewitt, who placed a tray of biscuits and a box of Kleenex on the table before every meeting, used phrases such as “going forward” and “escalate” until they were rendered meaningless and, indeed, Steve and Terri-Ann paid little attention.
Negotiations were exacerbated by the fact that both parties were allowed to bring a friend or relative to the meeting for support. In Steve’s case, this support was his new partner, Claire, who had no time for Terri-Ann’s tendency towards the melodramatic: “She acts like she’s the only woman this has ever happened to.”
Things soon got nasty. Claire said that Phoebe put on her sad face after one of her (infrequent) visits to Daddy because she didn’t want Mummy to think that she’d had a nice time. Daddy was made uncomfortable by Mummy’s penchant for inappropriate daywear whenever he came to collect the kids.
“You wore the shortest of skirts, Terri-Ann,” said Steve. “It was a SPRING DRESS!” As with the best documentaries, The Break Up teased you with small details that were never exploited and left you wondering. Steve had been known to visit adult websites, and Claire’s curt response suggested it might have been an addiction that had got out of control. An air freshener that dangled from the rear-view mirror in Steve’s car read: “Keep calm and pray!” – a sign, perhaps, that his romancing of the entire female population of the East Dorset coast had taken its toll and he was looking for some sort of meaning.
You would have had to search hard to find this show – it went out at 11 in the evening. I wonder if this is, in part, because its muted and unsensational approach is unfashionable. The Break Up treated human relationships with respect rather than turning them into queasy cabarets.
on the other hand, is a queasy cabaret which revels in outre behaviour. It’s based on Neil Gaiman’s sci-fi novel and features Ricky Whittle, Strictly Come Dancing runner-up 2009, as an ex-con called Shadow Moon, and Ian McShane as a mysterious stranger who is, in fact, the Norse god Odin and keeps an overgrown leprechaun called Mad Sweeney on his payroll.
Million-dollar set pieces and graphic depictions of sex and violence engulf a barely intelligible story, which, I think, is meant to be some sort of metaphor for
Steve’s romancing of the East Dorset coast appeared to have taken its toll
Two’s company: Terri-Ann, Victoria Hewitt, Steve and Claire in The Break Up; below, Kristin Chenoweth and Ian McShane in American Gods