Re­view

Emine Saner There was no mind­blow­ing cli­max to this ex­am­i­na­tion of sex and mar­riage, but it came to a sat­is­fy­ing con­clu­sion ★★★ ☆☆

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‘We were out of scour­ers,” says Alan to his lover turned part­ner Claire – the woman for whom he has left his wife, Joy, the in­evitable con­se­quence of the open re­la­tion­ship Joy en­cour­aged in the first place. And, just like that, the shine on their sexy new re­la­tion­ship has gone. A Brillo pad will do that. “Alan, what the fuck?” says Claire, ap­palled at how he has ti­died up her stu­denty flat with its cig­a­rette ends and used teabags on the side. Teacher Alan (Steven Mac­in­tosh) – re­mem­ber from last week? – is the man who al­pha­be­tised his VHS col­lec­tion, and now he is miss­ing run­ning the vac­uum un­der his kids’ legs and do­ing com­pan­ion­able wash­ing-up with his ther­a­pist wife (Toni Col­lette). He and Claire (Zawe Ash­ton) were never go­ing to work – she doesn’t even own an iron.

Wan­der­lust, a six-part ex­am­i­na­tion of mid­dle-aged mar­riage and sex, came to a sat­is­fy­ing con­clu­sion, if not ex­actly a mind­blow­ing cli­max. What a strange se­ries it has been. On the one hand, the slow-burn pace has felt novel when ev­ery other drama is fast and whizzy; on the other, it has some­times been a bit bor­ing. It feels like an elab­o­rate test of mod­ern at­ten­tion spans.

Nick Payne’s script – adapted from his play – is of­ten beau­ti­ful, and nat­u­ral­is­tic, with all its “ums” and “ers” and rep­e­ti­tion and pauses in the di­a­logue. But it can also be too the­atri­cal. “Ob­vi­ously, I’m in love with you too,” says Claire to Alan, halt­ingly and ex­ag­ger­ated, “but I’m not sure I know how to do this at the ex­pense of some­one else. To me, that doesn’t re­ally feel like love.” Peo­ple don’t re­ally speak like that, do they? At least, not the peo­ple you would want to know in real life. Alan’s re­sponse is to re­count a dream in which his elec­tric tooth­brush had “tiny lit­tle hands”, prov­ing that the only thing more tire­some than hear­ing about other peo­ple’s dreams is hav­ing to hear about them from a TV char­ac­ter. “Maybe you should see a ther­a­pist,” dead­pans Claire. The hu­mour has al­ways been the best thing about this show.

It veers from the te­diously dra­matic – Joy is lit­er­ally floored by the poignant dis­cov­ery of her es­tranged hus­band’s cuf­flink in the wash­ing ma­chine – to the mun­dane. In a drama with pre­ten­sions, even the dull bits make you feel as though you are sup­posed to be see­ing pro­found truths in them. Is it a metaphor for the dis­con­nect in their re­la­tion­ship when the man in Joy’s cou­ples’ coun­selling ses­sion goes on about his drafty sash win­dows, or is he just a berk? Does Alan’s con­cern about the boiler and the ra­di­a­tor in the hall­way, in a phone call to Joy, sig­nify the en­dur­ing warmth be­tween the cen­tral cou­ple, or is he gen­uinely con­cerned about the heat­ing needs of their un­fea­si­bly large and beau­ti­fully dec­o­rated house? Is Payne un­rea­son­ably pre­oc­cu­pied with home main­te­nance?

Any­way, the plot is nicely tied up – Alan moves in with Claire, then moves out (he gets to keep the new iron); Joy makes a move on her ex Lawrence, but is re­buffed (he gets to keep his wife); she meets Emily, the widow of one of her clients who killed him­self, and that goes well; then she gets back on her bike – lit­er­ally and, this be­ing Wan­der­lust, metaphor­i­cally – and cy­cles the route of her ac­ci­dent from the first episode. There is a lot of past be­ing laid to rest. The chil­dren’s love lives are all go­ing well, in con­trast to the mess their par­ents have made. But look, Alan and Joy still love each other, so he comes home with a dra­matic sigh of re­lief – he even finds his miss­ing poignant cuf­flink. Even Joy’s lover Marc-witha-C seems to be get­ting it on with Claire, so ev­ery­thing is neatly tied up.

De­spite it be­ing so man­nered and test­ing of my pa­tience, I have en­joyed Wan­der­lust. The cast is ter­rific, it has a won­der­ful sound­track and it tack­led the themes of loss – of youth, de­sire, loved ones, op­por­tu­ni­ties – and what we want from life in a se­ri­ous, if self-con­scious, way. An over­whelm­ing and unashamedly ten­der feel made up for the stagi­ness. Like most things, I sup­pose, it helped if you were in the mood for it.

Even the dull bits make you feel as though you are sup­posed to see pro­found truths

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