‘Keep calm and pray!’ A guide to break­ing up

The Daily Telegraph - Review - - Screengrab - Ben Lawrence

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

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