There’s a lovely moment in Alan Bennett’s The History Boys that captures exactly why good drama clicks with its audience. The teacher Hector explains to his pupils that when a writer finds resonance, “it’s as if a hand has come out and taken yours”.
Unfortunately, no such connection is likely to be made by viewers of True Love, the new BBC1 series that bypassed the writer and gave its actors the responsibility of coming up with the dialogue. The result in last night’s opening episode was David Tennant and Vicky McClure sitting across from each other in a Margate café swapping lines like “We were meant to be together” and “I never loved anyone like I loved you”.
It was meant to be a poignant moment: one-time lovers reunited, each questioning the roads the other had taken. But there was little sense of the feelings behind the words.
The problem was partly down to the running time – Tennant was facing an almost impossible task of going from happily married to reconciliation by way of possible divorce, all in the space of 30 minutes. It made for a truncated tale of characters frozen in the moment without a backstory to cling on to.
It also seemed loaded with improbabilities: why, for instance, did Nick and Serena choose to advertise their emotional torment on the seafront? Weren’t they running a massive risk when, only a day before, Serena had run into Nick’s wife in the very same location?
But the main issue was the lack of script. The conceit of True Love was that the improvisation – with all its hesitations and awkward silences – was meant to say something profound about the state of its characters’ relationships. But it ended up falling short of its intentions.
Decent drama ought to make sense of ideas that we, as viewers, readily recognise but may not have been able to articulate. Only then can the hand that Hector talks of in The History Boys reach out and take hold. By leaving Nick so lost for originality, True Love was also left without the power of getting its message across.